Police Manufacturing Evidence to Implicate Anti-CAA Activists in Delhi Riots, Says New Report

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The 26-page report was prepared by a coalition of scholars, writers, authors around the world and put together from ground reports with the aim to place on record that the Delhi police were using coercive and discriminatory methods to build evidence against activists.

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

The Delhi police are coercing young Muslim men from North- East Delhi and activists during interrogations to manufacture evidence in favour of its narrative that the February Delhi violence was a result of a conspiracy hatched by activists opposed to NRC/CAA.

A new report released by the Polis Project, a hybrid research and journalism organization based in New York working , also alleged that the police were pressuring young men to act as “witnesses” and produce statements corroborating the police narrative that the violence was caused by the “conspiracy” of the anti-CAA/NRC protesters.

The 26-page report titled ‘Manufacturing Evidence: How the Police is framing and arresting constitutional rights defenders in India’ was prepared by a coalition of scholars, writers, authors around the world and put together from ground reports with the aim to place on record that the Delhi police were using coercive and discriminatory methods to build evidence against activists.

According to the report, the young men are being threatened with UAPA, an anti-terror law, and are also told that no action will be taken against them if they agree to cooperate.

“Those being interrogated have also been pressured to lie,” says the report, citing the case of a 24-year-old Muslim youth who was granted bail on humanitarian grounds as he had lost almost all his vision.

According to the police, he had confessed he had participated in the riots and had named members of the student group Pinjra Tod. “But he told The Hindu that he had no idea who these activists were, and that he was forced to sign the statement by the police. He could not read the contents, nor could his mother who is his sole source of support.”

Another loophole exposed by the report points to police attempts at manufacturing the evidence is that the confession statements from those interrogated were “virtually identical, including the repetition of exact words and sentences”,  The report says, “Analysis by the newspaper The Indian Express strongly indicates that the police are tampering with statements rather than recording them independently and accurately.”

The report also alleges that the families of those being interrogated would face harassment if they don’t cooperate.

In December last year when the Modi government passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), it triggered a controversy and ignited a wave of peaceful protests across India. Muslim women took to streets and began indefinite sit-ins at various places across the country asking the government to revoke the “discriminatory” law which went against the secular and democratic spirit of the constitution of the country.

According to the law, migrants from neighbouring countries living in India will be granted citizenship. But it specifically excludes Muslims. Critics say that the law, coupled with the potential nationwide citizenship test, will enable the disenfranchisement of Muslim citizens who will be sent to detention centres if they fail to prove their citizenship in accordance with new norms.

Irked by the protests, senior leaders and ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in their speeches, exhorted their supporters to shoot the protesters. “Goli maaro salon ko” became the war-cry of the mobs supporting the ruling party. This eventually led to an outbreak of violence in parts of Delhi in late February. The carnage that followed left behind a trail of death and destruction.

More than 50 people were killed, hundreds of houses set ablaze and many families displaced in just three days of violence. The police were accused of siding with the rampaging mobs throughout the violence and arson.

The same Delhi police have made a series of detentions in the name of investigation at a time when the entire country was under an unprecedented lockdown. What’s more, they have chosen the UAPA as a weapon against the people detained. The detainees include student activists and protest coordinators, including Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider, Shifa ur Rehman, Gulfisha Fatima, and even ordinary youths from the Muslim community. The police say they are responsible for inciting violence, a charge which, the report says, is baseless.

The exhaustive report, based on interviews, news stories and fact- finding reports, finds that the role of Delhi police has been complicit in repeated violations of fundamental constitutional rights in their practices.

It demonstrates how the Delhi police failed to prevent or control violence, apprehend the perpetrators and rescue survivors. It also reiterates how the uniformed men colluded with the Hindu mobs and participated in the violence against Muslims. It cites the example of the infamous viral video which showed cops forcing a group of young men to sing the national anthem while beating them. One of them later succumbed to his injuries.

“The report clearly lays out how the police not only abdicated its responsibility to protect the Muslim communities, who were the disproportionate victims of the Delhi pogrom but they also actively aided and abetted those who were involved in this violence,” Suchitrya Vijayan, founder and executive Director at The Polis Project tells Clarion India. “The police have since tried to shift the blame for the attacks onto the Muslim community itself, attempting to transform Muslims from victims to perpetrators.”

The report asks if anti-CAA Muslim protesters were solely responsible for the violence–as the police narrative on the causal sequence has repeatedly sought to emphasise–then how does one account for or explain the overwhelming fact that—as the police’s own affidavits says–a very large majority of the victims of violence–over three-fourths among those dead–were Muslims themselves?

The report lashes out the Delhi police for its alleged “failure to arrest and prosecute key functionaries of the ruling political party, against whom there is clear evidence of incitement and abetment to violence.” For instance, Kapil Mishra gave a speech in the presence of the Deputy Commissioner of Police exhorting his supporters to use vigilantes and extra-judicial tactics, and this should have invited action from the police. “The charge sheets, however, fail to mention the speech,” the report reads.

The report says that the approach of the police to investigation is “fundamentally flawed” as it follows the notion of ‘Guilt by presumption rather than by proof’. It presumes the cause of violence rather than arriving at it based on evidence, towards creation of conspiracy theory. “The police seem to be pursuing a dogged line of presenting anti-CAA protesters and protest organisers as the accused without even prima facie evidence to support the allegations levelled against them. Yet, this is passing through the courts with only a few notable exceptions.”

It cites the example of Pinjra Tod’s Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita who were granted bail by court but were rearrested by the Delhi police crime Branch. “The sweeping presumptions made, with no trace of evidence as yet, beg the question about the motives underlying the police narrative.”

The report also cites the call of the UN experts to release activists “who have been arrested for protesting against changes to the nation’s citizenship laws.”

The report finds that the police claims are replete with grave inconsistencies as they blame prominent anti-CAA activists like Umar Khalid and Harsh Mander for violence and claim it was “pre-planned” at a meeting on January 8 to time with Donald Trump’s India visit. “The meeting allegedly took place on 8 January 2020, but the first report about Trump’s visit was made public only on 14 January 2020.”

Key Findings:

1. Failure to prevent or control violence, apprehend the perpetrators and rescue survivors.

2. Abetment and participation in the violence.

3. Fundamentally-flawed approach to investigation which presumes cause of violence rather than arriving at it based on evidence, towards creation of conspiracy theory.

4. Glaring flaws in evidence to support the police’s own conspiracy theory.

5. Omission of key evidence with the intent of supporting conspiracy theory and simultaneously protecting dominant ideology of Hindu supremacy and its promoters.

6. Failure to provide specific evidence against the accused that links them to the crimes they have been charged with.

7. Failure to arrest and prosecute key functionaries of the ruling political party, against whom there is clear evidence of incitement and abetment to violence.

8. Coercion and threats directed at vulnerable members of the Muslim community to terrorize them into testifying against ‘senior’ activists, towards generating fear in order to crush future dissent.

9. Islamophobic behaviour and language during interrogations.

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