New Delhi: Last Saturday, Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, members of the Pinjra Tod collective and PhD students at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, were arrested in connection with the February riots in Northeast Delhi.
They were accused of obstructing a public servant from discharging his duty (FIR 48/20) by the Delhi Police in Jaffrabad, and were granted bail by duty magistrate Ajeet Narayan the next day, Sunday, 24 May.
However, within minutes of the bail order, they were re-arrested when the Delhi Police Crime Branch furnished another FIR (number 50/20), which carried charges under the Arms Act as well as the charge of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. The court gave the police 15 minutes to interrogate; the police then demanded 14-day custody for interrogation, but the judge granted two-day custody, later extended by another two days.
Kalita and Narwal aren’t the first in this regard. Lawyers representing those arrested in the Delhi riots cases claim most arrests were made under FIRs that charged them with lower offences, and, subsequently, additional FIRs were furnished at bail hearings, not all of which were disclosed to the accused or their counsel. They also allege violations of procedures of arrest.
But Delhi Police Commissioner S.N. Shrivastava said it takes time to trace a person’s involvement in a case, which is why the charges have been added later.
“A person’s involvement or lack thereof only becomes clearer as the case progresses, which is not always clear at the time of arrest,” Shrivastava told ThePrint.
“We have filed 752 FIRs in connection with the Delhi riots. This is a highly sensitive case… and in the interest of the investigation, progress cannot be revealed that will prejudice the case,” he added.
Kalita and Narwal’s arrest
Kalita and Narwal had received interrogation notices in connection with the 22 February protests at Jaffrabad metro station. They were being interrogated by the Special Cell at their residences when Jaffrabad Police officials arrested them Saturday.
They were produced before duty magistrate Ajeet Narayan Sunday, who granted them bail, saying: “Facts of the case reveal that the accused were merely protesting against CAA and NRC and the accused did not indulge in any violence.”
However, Pinjra Tod issued a statement Monday that said: “Immediately after such an order, police officials from the Delhi Police Crime Branch moved a fresh application seeking arrest and 14-day police custody on FIR 50/20 PS Crime Branch.”
This FIR included charges under Arms Act and Prevention of Damage to Private Property Act, as well as charges of murder.
The Delhi Police submitted that “the accused have to be interrogated at length to know the conspiracy behind which includes the identity of other co-accused have to be established”, according to Sunday’s court order granting two-day custody, which was extended for another two days Tuesday.
Asked about the additional FIR, Joint Commissioner of Police for Northeast Delhi, Alok Kumar, said: “We had arrested them (Narwal and Kalita) in one FIR, under which they got bail. About the second FIR, only the Crime Branch can answer.”
ThePrint reached Crime Branch DCP Joy Tirkey through calls and messages but there was no response until the time of publishing this report. The Delhi Police PRO asked for questions to be emailed, however, no response has been received.
Similar pattern for others
The same pattern of additional FIRs with more serious charges had earlier been noted in previous arrests connected to the Delhi riots, such as that of Jamia Millia Islamia student Safoora Zargar.
“Safoora was arrested by the Special Cell under FIR 48/20, but when she got bail in the case, Special Cell invoked FIR 59/20, to which UAPA was later added,” said Akram Khan, the advocate representing another Jamia student, Meeran Haider, booked under the same FIR 59/20.
Former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan too was first arrested on 26 February in connection with an FIR relating to a protest in Khureji. “On 21 March, when she was granted bail in the protests case, 24 sections were added in FIR 59/20, including charges of murder and arson. They extended her custody in this manner and later UAPA was invoked in April,” said a lawyer familiar with her case who did not wish to be identified.
Apart from Kalita, Narwal, Zargar, Shafi and Jahan, the police have arrested Jamia students Asif Iqbal Tanha and Gulfisha Fatima, as well as Jamia Alumni Association president Shifa-ur-Rahman and activist Khalid Saifi in connection with the riots while the country has been in lockdown.
Zargar, Shafi, Fatima, Tanha and Shifa-ur-Rahman have been slapped with UAPA charges and are in jail, while former JNU student Umar Khalid has been booked under the stringent Act but not arrested.
‘Violation’ of SC guidelines on arrests
In 1996, the Supreme Court had laid down 11 guidelines to be followed for arrests and detentions, in the D.K. Basu vs State of West Bengal case. The guidelines include furnishing an arrest memo, which includes grounds for arrest, and allowing the arrestee access to a counsel.
However, lawyers claim that in the Delhi riots cases, these guidelines are not being followed. In Ishrat Jahan’s case, for example, after her arrest from the Khureji protest site, police allegedly refused to tell her the charges under which she had been arrested, and didn’t allow lawyers who had gathered there to meet her.
“We were not even allowed to meet Ishrat and other detainees initially. The police would just not let us into the station. They misbehaved with us as well,” said Supreme Court advocate Avani Bansal.
In Gulfisha Fatima’s case, she was first arrested under FIR 48/20 for instigating a crowd at the Jaffrabad metro station protest, for which she was granted bail on 13 May. But her lawyers claim false charges were framed against her and the UAPA invoked.
“False charges have been levelled against Gulfisha. Even if charges were correct, how can you invoke terror charges like UAPA? Wrongly invoking UAPA is also an offence and we will bring that to light,” said Mehmud Pracha, her counsel.
In Meeran Haider’s case, he was first arrested under sections 147 to 149 of the IPC, relating to rioting and being armed with a deadly weapon. But his counsel Akram Khan was not told about the UAPA charge until they reached court.
“While other charges including sedition were added in the course of the investigation, it was only when we moved bail in court that we got to know they had invoked UAPA. Till date, FIR 59/20 only mentions sections under 147-149 and other bailable offences,” Khan said.
Lawyers have also called out procedural flaws. “The fact that those who are being arrested are not being adequately informed is a gross violation of the procedure of law. Police have been using underhanded measures but why aren’t judges calling it out?” asked Avani Bansal.
Lawyers unrelated to the cases have also raised questions over the strategy employed by the police.
Supreme Court advocate Suruchi Suri told ThePrint: “It appears that the authorities are using these new FIRs as trump cards and splitting up the grounds for arrest. This is to ensure that if bail is granted, arrest is deemed imperative on another ground/s.”
She added: “Undue efficiency in ensuring that the authorities have another application ready on the same day of grant of bail shows that the procedure of law is being used to selectively harass the accused.”
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