The Delhi Police’s Special Cell on Tuesday searched the office of advocate Mehmood Pracha, who has been fighting cases on behalf of many accused in the large-scale communal violence that broke out in the Capital in February 2020. The police had searched Pracha’s office in December too.
Pracha told Scroll.in that the raid took place when he and his associates were not in the office. “Our office was locked and they [the police] knew that I would not be there because I would be undertaking a cross-examination of a Special Cell case only, in which the senior investigating officer is the same,” he said. “So they knew that I would not be there. They still chose a date where I will not be there in the office.”
An associate from Pracha’s office, who did not wish to be identified, told Scroll.in that more than 100 policemen were at the office. The associate added that the search began at 12.30 pm and is still underway.
“They want the laptops and computers, they are saying they need some meta data of the emails when we are saying we have sent the emails from our email ID, so there is no doubt about it,” the associate said. “They are saying they have to take all the computers for this.”
Pracha moved a local court against the search warrants. He said the Delhi Police’s demand to take away the hard disks of his computers were “completely illegal and unjustified”. The advocate said the documents that the authorities have asked for were “already in their possession from the previous exercise”.
Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Pankaj Sharma has directed that the investigating officer and the deputy commissioner of police of the special cell be present in court on Wednesday at 10.30 am.
Pracha’s urgent application before the court said:
“Although an actually free and fair investigation would reveal the real truth that the present case is completely baseless and has been instituted with the sole objective of hounding the applicant/accused at the behest of and as a part of a conspiracy involving senior politicians, bureaucrats and even judicial officers, yet, as has been previously been submitted during the hearings in this matter, the applicant is going to the extent of risking self-implication even in derogation of his Fundamental Right only for the sake of protecting the data and information pertaining to his clients and briefs (completely unconnected to the allegations being investigated) which is his bounden duty as an advocate, under the law of the land.”— Mehmood Pracha's application
The advocate also pointed out that the investigating officer approached the court, as was done in the previous search, without even seeking any documents from him under Section 91 of the Code Of Criminal Procedure.
The particular section states, “whenever any court or any officer in charge of a police station considers that the production of any document or other thing is necessary or desirable for the purposes of any investigation, inquiry, trial or other proceeding under this code by or before such Court or officer, such court may issue a summons, or such officer a written order, to the person in whose possession or power such document or thing is believed to be, requiring him to attend and produce it, or to produce it, at the time and place stated in the summons or order.”
Pracha said he will give the specific documents if told to do so by the court. These documents are “alleged to have been drafted at his office and also subsequently sent from his office computers on e-Mail, leaving no occasion for another assault on the dignity and majesty of law under the garb of a sham search”.
The application added:
“Solely with a view to protect the interests of his other clients and briefs unconnected to the allegations being investigated, howsoever false and baseless they may be, the applicant, being an advocate, is willing to concede to the allegation as to drafting of the complaint and its subsequent sending from his office, so that the basic premise for search and the seizure being sought does not stand any longer.”
December 2020 raid
Following the December raid, the lawyer had said that the police seized his computer and laptop. Meanwhile, the police claimed that they were searching for “incriminating documents” and “metadata of outbox” of the official email address of Pracha’s firm.
The police action against Pracha had triggered outrage, with many pointing out that it brazenly violated attorney-client privilege.
Pracha then moved the Patiala House trial court, seeking preservation of copies of the video footage of the raids on his office. The court asked for footage of the search and directed the police to submit a status report.
In August last year, the Delhi Police had filed a first information report against Pracha, alleging that the advocate had “tutored” victims to give false statements in riot-related cases. Additional sessions judge Vinod Yadav ordered the police commissioner to issue directions to the special cell or crime branch to probe the allegations against the lawyer. Pracha had denied the allegations.
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Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26, 2020, in North East Delhi, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds. The Delhi Police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods.
The Delhi Police claim the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was hatched by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Act. They further claimed the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the façade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.
Two chargesheets have been filed so far in connection with the violence. In September, a case of rioting was registered at the Khajuri Khas Police Station in which 15 people, including suspended Aam Aadmi Party Councillor Tahir Hussain, were arrested. All the 15 have been accused under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Indian Penal Code and Arms Act. The 17,000-page chargesheet was filed at Karkardooma court.
On November 22, the Delhi Police filed a supplementary chargesheet against former student leader Umar Khalid and two other Jawaharlal Nehru University student activists Sharjeel Imam and Faizan Khan in the case. In the 200-page chargesheet, the police claimed that Khalid had “remotely controlled” the violence. The former JNU student was accused of orchestrating the violence during United States President Donald Trump’s visit to Delhi.