The names of senior advocate Prashant Bhushan and Congress Party leader Salman Khurshid appear in the chargesheet for First Information Report (FIR) 59/2020 Crime Branch, which accuses students, social and political activists, and a suspended Aam Aadmi Party councillor of planning the Delhi riots.
Bhushan and Khurshid’s names appear in the “disclosure statements” attributed to two accused in the case, a former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan and businessman Mohammed Khalid aka Khalid Saifi.
Legally speaking, this doesn’t make Bhushan or Khurshid an accused in the case as yet, but lawyers say it exposes them to further investigation and leaves them vulnerable to being implicated in the so-called conspiracy in the future under section 120 (B) of the Indian Penal Code.
In the statements, recorded by the Delhi Police, both Jahan and Saifi say Bhushan and Khurshid made provocative statements at the Khajuri protest site in northeast Delhi.
Lawyers for the accused say the police have falsified the disclosure statements.
“The police have written the disclosure statements. There is no truth to it,” Pradeep Teotia, Jahan’s lawyer, told HuffPost India.
“Made up,” said Harsh Bora, Saifi’s lawyer.
Disclosure statements are taken soon after an arrest, and do not have evidentiary value in a trial unless they lead to the discovery of new evidence.
Bhushan and Khurshid follow other critics of the Narendra Modi government and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who spoke at protests opposing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in December and January, and now find their names appearing in Delhi Police chargesheets related to the Delhi riots in February.
The appearance of these prominent names has lent credence to the suspicion that the BJP is leaning on the Delhi Police to muzzle those opposed to the Narendra Modi government.
Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, whose name was recently reported to have appeared in disclosure statements in FIR 50/2020 Jafrabad Police Station, also appeared in the disclosure statements in FIR 59/2020 along with lawyer Mehmood Pracha, who is representing a 28-year-old MBA graduate Gulfisha Fatima in FIR 59, Ali Anwar Ansari, a former Janata Dal (United) leader and Rajya Sabha lawmaker, human rights defender Harsh Mander, documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy, Himanshu, Congress member Sadaf Jafar, and Himanshu, the Delhi state president of the Bhim Army, among others.
Mander’s name has also appeared in FIR 65/2020 Dayalpur Police Station, concerning the murder of a government official Ankit Sharma, where he is mentioned in the Delhi Police’s chronology of events as having given an instigating speech 16 December, 2019, and in the affidavit that the Delhi Police submitted to the Delhi High Court on 13 July. Mander’s speech at Jamia Millia Islamia University, exhorting love and respect for the Constitution, can be heard here.
Yogendra Yadav, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) economist Jayati Ghosh, Delhi University professor Apoorvanand, and documentary filmmaker Rahul Roy, were reportedly named in the disclosure statements attributed to accused Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, two JNU students, in the chargesheet for FIR 50/2020 Jafrabad Police Station, the murder case of one Amaan, who died of a gunshot injury in the February riots.
The name of Kavita Krishnan, who is secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), also appears in the disclosure statements attributed to Kalita and Narwal in FIR 59.
Delhi Police spokesperson Anil Mittal, in an official statement in response to a public backlash last week, said, “It is worth mentioning that the disclosure statement has been truthfully recorded as narrated by the accused person. A person is not arraigned as an accused only on the basis of the disclosure statement. However, it is only on the existence of sufficient corroborative evidence that further legal action is taken. The matter is currently sub judice.”
In the chargesheet in FIR 59, in which Bhushan and Khurshid’s name appear in the disclosure statements, the Delhi Police says that those protesting against the CAA and NRC were using it as a front to plan Delhi’s worst communal riot in a long time. The FIR invokes the Unlawful Prevention Activities Act (UAPA), India’s anti-terror law, against students and activists in their twenties and thirties including Umar Khalid, a former JNU student activist, who is referred to as the main accused in the case .
Most of the 21 arrested in FIR 59 for allegedly planning the riots are Muslim.
Most the 53 people killed in the Delhi riots were Muslim.
The Delhi Police say they have filed 750 FIRs related to the Delhi riots.
They are yet to file FIRs against BJP leaders Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur who threatened vigilantism and made inflammatory speeches ahead of the Delhi riots.
Social activists, academics and retired police officers have questioned why the Delhi Police appear to be pinning the blame for the Delhi riots on those who are critical of that Modi government, and opposed the CAA and NRC.
The Delhi Police maintains they are carrying out an unbiased investigation into the Delhi riots.
Bhushan, Khurshid and Krishnan’s response
Recalling that the speeches he made during the anti-CAA and NRC protests in Delhi were often recorded by onlookers, Bhushan said that none of them were “provocative,” but only critical of the Modi government.
“My speeches were neither provocative nor provoking violence. I was generally praising these protests and saying that this law is unconstitutional. My speech must have been recorded in multiple video cameras. I would say that this government is trying to destroy the secular and make India into a Hindu rashtra and it is great that women have come out to protest against it,” said Bhushan.
“It would be a strong speech but nothing provocative. I generally speaking quite strongly about what is happening in the country. I’m strongly critical of the government, but there is nothing violent,” he said. “This is reflecting that they want to somehow tarnish and prosecute anyone who was supporting these protests and came out strongly against the government.”
“Provocative statements are not illegal statements,” said Khurshid, senior advocate and former Union Minister. “These disclosure statements are not of these people. These disclosure statements are of police informers. You have to show the statement, you have to give the words of the statement. Those were very genuine leaderless protests. Those protests are absolutely permissible under Indian law. If any of the protests are equated with sedition, then we will fight it out in court.”
“These are beginnings of a police state. Sweeping opinions given by individuals in the protection of the police are being put in a chargesheet which are not necessarily part of the chargesheet,” said Khurshid. “These are supporting documents. If I find my name in a supporting document, what is purpose? Am I going to be called to help convict somebody or to defend somebody or am I going to be called to defend my own conduct? All this is completely unclear. Putting something by way of supporting documents of a chargesheet is a meaningless thing. The evidence will be what an individual gives in court. Not pieces of paper they have put in the chargesheet.”
“I and thousands of others proudly and openly participated in the equal citizenship protests,” said Krishnan. “The Delhi Police ‘investigation’ is the real conspiracy to equate protests, meetings, conversations, arguments, the ordinary everyday actions of public spirited citizens, with ‘conspiracy to riot.’ It is clear that the disclosure and witness statements of equal citizenship protestors have been tampered with or scripted by the Delhi Police.”
“This entire investigation is a sham and based on doctored and forced evidence,” said Pracha, the lawyer, who has a client in the same case. “Therefore, prima facie it is visible that police is guilty and they are acting as criminals and not as neutral investigating agencies. We are going to take legal action against the police in due course of time.”
What the disclosure statements say
The disclosure statements attributed to Jahan, a former councillor and lawyer, and Saifi, a businessman and father of two children, make seemingly wild admissions about how they were planning to drive Hindus out of India and bring the Government of India to its knees before its Muslims. The speakers who came to the protest site near the Khajuri petrol pump, the statements said, lied to Muslims about the true nature of the CAA and the NRC, and gave instigating speeches that would get them fired over religion.
“It is all lies,” said Teotia, Jahan’s lawyer. “No one makes such filmy statements.”
A disclosure statement attributed to Khalid Saifi, dated 25 March, 2020, “In this period, Yogendra Yadav, Ali Anwar Ansari, Prashant Bhushan, Mehmood Pracha, Salman Khurshid, and (Bhim Army’s) Himanshu used to come and give speeches.”
A supplementary disclosure statement attributed to Khalid Saifi dated 30 March, 2020, reads, “To keep the protest movement going for a long time,” he and Ishrat Jahan would call people like advocate Mehmood Pracha, Sharjeel Imam, Umar Khalid, Salman Khurshid, and Bhim Army’s Himanshu, so that people who listen to their instigating speeches and they would stand up against the Indian government for their religion.
A supplementary disclosure statement attributed to Ishrat Jahan and dated 31 March, 2020, reads, “Yogendra Yadav, Ali Anwar Ansari, Prashant Bhushan, etcetera, came to our protest site on the invitation of Khalid Saifi.”
The disclosure statements attributed to Kalita and Narwal in FIR 50/2020 were reported to be strikingly similar.
The disclosure statements attributed to Saifi and Jahan in FIR 59/2020 also say the same thing, in communally charged language, that is sometimes mirrored word for word.
Two separate supplementary disclosure statements attributed to Saifi and Jahan dated 30 March, 2020, for instance, describe the objective of the conspirators in the same words: “to drive Hindus from the country and if the police try to move us then to attack them with rocks and weapons.”
The Indian Express reported that the two JNU students, Kalia and Narwal, had not signed the disclosure statements naming the activists and politicians.
Bora, Saifi’s lawyer, said that his client had signed disclosure statements under duress. Bora said that Saifi was tortured while he was in police custody at the Jagatpuri Police Station immediately after he was arrested in February. Bora said he had complained to a district court magistrate that his client was made to sign statements attributed to him against his will and was even made to sign blank sheets.
Lawyers also point out that Indian law says the accused do not have to sign a disclosure statement.
Section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code says, “No statement made by any person to a police officer in the course of an investigation under this Chapter, shall, if reduced to writing, be signed by the person making it…”
Disclosure statements galore
It is worth noting that neither Saifi nor Jahan mentioned Bhushan, Khurshid, Yadav, Mander, and others, in the disclosure statements dated 26 February that are attributed to them after they were first booked for rioting and attempt to murder in FIR 44/20 Jagatpuri Police station and arrested.
Bora, Saifi’s lawyer, said there are six disclosure statements attributed to his client after he was arrested in FIR 59 on 21 March. Responding to why there were so many disclosure statements, he said, “Cops need time to be creative.”
(Update: this report has been updated to reflect remarks from Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association).
(Correction: an earlier version of this report said that Khalid Saifi was arrested on 20 March and four disclosure statements were attributed to him in FIR 59. The error is regretted).