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From Romeo & Juliet to Noble Gases, the ‘secret identities’ of witnesses in 2020 Delhi riots case

Several witnesses in conspiracy case have been granted protection under Section 44 of UAPA, which says their identity may be kept secret if court feels there's threat to their life.

Illustration: ThePrint
Illustration: ThePrint

New Delhi: From William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to elements of the periodic table such as Sodium, Neon and Radium — several witnesses in the 2020 Northeast Delhi riots conspiracy case have been given ‘secret identities’ for “protection”.

According to FIR no. 59/2020, filed on 6 March 2020, the Northeast Delhi riots were a planned conspiracy “hatched by JNU student Umar Khalid and his associates”.

The chargesheets in the case, as well as court orders, rely on statements made by several protected witnesses including Bond, Saturn, Smith, Echo, Sierra, Helium, Crypton, Johny, Pluto, Sodium, Radium, Gama, Delta, Beta, Neon, Hotel, Romeo, Juliet, and James.

ThePrint has copies of the FIR, chargesheets and court orders.

Sources in the Delhi Police told ThePrint that while the naming of protected witnesses is done randomly,  the protection itself has been granted under Section 44 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

The section, which deals with provisions to grant protection to witnesses who are perceived to be under threat, says their identity may be kept secret if the court feels that the life of such a witness is in danger. The court may keep the identity and address of a witness secret, on an application made by a witness before it or by the public prosecutor. The court may also do it on its own.

The court needs to record its reasons in writing if it decides to grant such protection to any witness.

“During investigation if it is found by the investigating officer and deemed fit that a particular witness has a potential threat to life, then he or she is given a pseudonym for protection. More often, in sensitive cases, like the Delhi riots case, several witnesses were unwilling to come forward and record their statement in front of the investigating team out of fear of those accused, harm to their life and future repercussions,” said a source in the Delhi Police.

He added that in this case, several witnesses were apprehensive of coming forward and were then granted protection through applications filed before the court by the public prosecutor.

According to sources, the naming of these protected witnesses is random.

“There is no pattern in naming them. The addresses of these individuals are also hidden from public view. Likewise, to protect identity the names are hidden, but to keep the segregation and make the process of addressing their statements easier, they are given different names by the investigators,” said the source quoted above.

“The only focus on naming them is to make one distinct from another and easy,” he added.

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Secret identity and address

According to Section 44, the proceedings under the UAPA can be held “in camera if the court so desires”. According to the provision, once a witness is granted such protection, the court can take different types of measures for their safety. These include holding the proceedings at a place decided by the court, and issuing directions for ensuring that the identity and address of the witness are not disclosed. The court can also order that the name and address of such a witness is not mentioned in any of its orders or judgments, or any records of the case accessible to the public.

The court can even order that “all or any of the proceedings pending before such a court shall not be published”, in public interest. Anybody who violates the court orders under this provision can be punished with a three year jail term, along with a fine.

In addition to the provisions of Section 44, Section 173(6) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) allows a police officer to attach a note requesting the magistrate to not supply certain copies of witness statements to the accused, if their disclosure “is not essential in the interests of justice and is inexpedient in the public interest”. In a normal trial, all statements of prosecution witnesses have to be disclosed to the accused.

However, in February this year, the Supreme Court ruled that the accused can be given redacted copies of statements of witnesses protected under Section 44.

‘Big conspiracy during Trump’s visit’

The chargesheets, as well as court orders, in the Delhi riot case have since heavily relied on the statements of these protected witnesses. These statements mention the date when they were recorded and the provision of law under which they were recorded.

For instance, according to one of the chargesheets, a witness identified as Beta had recorded their statement under Section 161 of the Code of Criminal Procedure on 3 April, 2020.

Beta had claimed that in February 2020, they were was informed by a person identified as Amanullah that Umar Khalid had delivered a provocative speech in Amravati, saying that “when America’s President Donald Trump comes to India, they will do something through these protests (anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests) that will send a message to the world that the condition of Muslims in India is very bad and the Indian government is completely anti-Muslim and appealed to the people to come on the streets”.

According to the chargesheet, the statement adds: “After this, it seemed to me from the conversation of Amanullah and his associates that during Trump’s visit to India, these people are planning to cause a big riot through these protests. Then I felt that the intentions of these people are not right and these people are planning some big conspiracy.”

The statement of another protected witness, identified as Romeo, was recorded on 25 June, 2020 under Section 164 of the CrPC, mentioned the chargesheet.

“Sharjeel Imam often used to say that in a city like Delhi where there is such a population of Muslims, we could not get anything done, neither any riots nor any traffic jam. He said that if every Muslim comes out of their homes and joins this campaign, we will completely bow down the government,” the chargesheet mentioned Romeo as saying.

It added: “They said that unless there is an atmosphere of panic and violence in this country, nothing will work. We have to spread panic and violence in such a way that the government should make a separate nation for the Muslims.”

Several such statements have been relied on by the courts in deciding on bail applications of those accused in the riots conspiracy case.

For instance, in the order rejecting Umar Khalid’s bail application in March this year, additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat had taken note of the allegations made by protected witnesses, and said that the statements of these witnesses mention “the role of accused persons and about open discussion on violence, riots, finance and weapons”.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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