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Two ‘crackdowns’, 106 arrests, 250 detained — how agencies ‘set the stage’ to ban PFI

In a 2nd raid Tuesday, NIA & ED targeted mid-rung PFI members, including lawyers, teachers & students. Ministry of Home Affairs Wednesday banned the organisation, its affiliates.

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New Delhi: It was around 3 am Tuesday when Delhi Police personnel took position for raids conducted across six districts, including Shaheen Bagh and Nizamuddin, to detain people associated with the Popular Front of India (PFI), as part of its crackdown against the organisation.

Among those detained is a man who runs a publishing house, printing Urdu literature, in Daryaganj; a man who gave lessons on the Quran; and a student of Delhi University (DU).

A total of 30 people, including activists and even supporters, from across the national capital were detained for “breach of peace”, as part of a second round of crackdowns against the PFI in which 250 alleged members of the organisation from six states and one Union territory were rounded up.

It was part of a “strategy” to set the stage to “ban the PFI” and to “curb the demonstrations, violent protests and attacks” that transpired after the first round of arrests, ThePrint has learnt. Sources also confirmed that the exercise — first by the NIA and ED and now by local police forces of multiple states — was part of the exercise.

Those detained Tuesday were identified after interrogation of those arrested in the previous raids, and then placed under preventive detention to stop them from “creating trouble”.

Following the raid, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Wednesday banned the PFI and its associate organisation, notifying them as “unlawful association”, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for a period of five years. According to the ministry’s notification, the PFI and its affiliates were found to have “links with global terror organisation” and were involved in several “terror cases”, with an “intent to create a reign of terror in the country, endangering the security and public order of the state”

Tuesday’s crackdown came less than a week after the first crackdown, which resulted in the arrest of 106 people allegedly linked to the outfit.

Speaking to ThePrint, a PFI spokesperson, not wanting to be named, said, “Massive arrests are going on in BJP-ruled states in the name of preventive custody. This is nothing but the prevention of the right to democratic protests against the central government’s witch hunt targeting PFI. This is quite natural and expected under this autocratic system.”

Also read: PFI declared ‘unlawful’ for 5 yrs by MHA, found to have ‘links with global terror organisations’

‘Broke into the house, rounded up people’

When ThePrint visited the house of the publisher, his wife did not want to open the door.

She alleged that some men and women in civil dress “broke” into her house at 3 am and asked her about her husband’s whereabouts. They woke her children up and ransacked the house and even hit her when she told them she was not aware of where her husband was, she alleged.

After a round of questioning, she further claimed that she got fed up and led them to her husband who was at his friend’s house.

According to a PFI member, who wished to not be named, in the area, the publisher was not a regular member of the PFI and was only involved in “printing their posters for campaigns”. “He has been printing posters for us for some time now but isn’t a very active member otherwise,” he said.

The detained DU student, associated with the National Coordination of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO), was picked up by the police from Shaheen Bagh.

The NCHRO has been linked to the PFI. The organisation’s secretary general, P. Koya, and secretary A. Mohamed Yusuff, were among those arrested in the first round of raids.

Speaking to ThePrint, the BA third year DU student’s friend said, “He isn’t directly associated with the PFI but has been doing volunteer work for the NCHRO. He has been a part of multiple protests and agitations in the past whether it is organised by AISA (All India Students’ Association) or any other organisation. He was also part of the CAA protests.”

“In fact, we became friends after meeting at some protests,” the friend added.

The PFI, in a statement Tuesday, said the raids, arrests and detentions are a “deliberate attempt to generate a feeling of terror among people about Popular Front of India”.

“The term “crackdown” that is being used by the agencies and media to describe the arrests and raids itself conveys the intention of the regime to assign a stigma to the organisation and consequently terrorise the general public. Arrested leaders are always visibly present either at their residences or at the offices of the organisation or at public programmes, and it was the same scenario at the time of the arrest as well,” a PFI spokesperson said.

Crackdown to avoid ‘sit in protests’, ‘riot like situation’

According to intelligence sources, local police were roped in for the second time to make these detentions in order to avoid the “riot-like situation” and “sit-in protests” that took place following raids by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) last week.

Stones and petrol bombs were hurled in Kerala as the PFI staged a hartal last Friday against the first round of arrests. The organisation had called for a 12-hour strike in protest.

As many as 500 people were arrested and 400 others put under preventive detention in the state after the protests.

In Tamil Nadu, petrol bombs were hurled at the BJP office on VKK Menon Road in Coimbatore and a nearby textile shop last Thursday. Similar incidents have since been reported in Madurai, Pollachi, Erode and Thoothukudi.

Following this, Tamil Nadu BJP chief K. Annamalai has demanded police protection for Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionaries.

The second round of raids were conducted Tuesday, across Karnataka, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Maharashtra and Telangana. This time, the target was mid-rung members of the PFI, including lawyers, teachers and even students.

This was in continuation of the coordinated crackdown where over 1,500 personnel from multiple agencies raided 93 locations related to PFI in 15 states simultaneously at 3 am sharp, and arrested 106 people.

The MHA can issue a notification to ban an organisation as unlawful for six months to five years. This, however, goes to a tribunal — in this case the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) tribunal — and has to be upheld by it after close scrutiny of evidence against the organisation in order for the ban to stay.

The MHA has to ensure that there is sufficient evidence against the organisation, which includes number of cases against its members, nature of those cases, chargesheets filed and cognizance taken by courts, convictions of members, among other things. If the evidence is not strong enough, the ban is set aside by the tribunal.

Also Read: 18 nations were asked about media reporting on religion. Here’s what people said

PFI accused of ‘terror links, having hit list’

A total of 250 people were detained in Tuesday’s raids. Karnataka leads the list with 72 detained, followed by Uttar Pradesh (44), Maharashtra (43), Delhi (30), Assam (25), Madhya Pradesh (21) and Gujarat (15).

According to sources in the security establishment, PFI leaders are under probe for “encouraging Muslim youth to join the Islamic State, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and al Qaeda”, carrying out propaganda operations and raising funds from the Gulf for “terror activities”.

Investigators also said that the leaders had made “a hit-list of Indian leaders to assassinate”.

The PFI, they further claimed, had been found to be involved in “collection of deadly weapons and explosives to launch attacks at sensitive places and organising training camps to cause disturbance during PM Modi’s Patna visit in July”.

The ED had also claimed that the PFI prepared, possessed and printed “incriminating literature posing a threat to the unity, integrity of India”.

“This is a crackdown to disrupt their entire network that has been gaining growth in the entire country,” a source in the NIA said.

In the raids last week, 11 arrests were made from Assam, including Aminul Hoque, PFI’s Northeast Regional Secretary. A total of 36 people have been picked up in that state since 22 September.

According to a press release by the Assam police, 10 arrests from 22 September were filed under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 124-A (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

PFI leaders were “indulging in whipping [up] communal passion and sentiments of the religious minority” over issues including the Citizenship Amendment Act, the National Register of Citizens, the new state education policy, and the Cattle Preservation Act, claimed Assam police.

Last Saturday, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had said, “We have intelligence inputs that the PFI has created an ecosystem that encourages some people to join the radicalisation modules sponsored by ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS).”

Inputs from Angana Chakrabarti

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)

Also Read: Secret NSE phone-tap or ‘financial fraud’? Inside story of ED case that’s snared ex-IPS officer


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