New Delhi: The Delhi Police has submitted before the high court tweets calling for the release of activist Devangana Kalita and some “opinionated” news articles to justify a “brief note” that was shared with the media on 2 June to divulge crucial information on evidence collected against her.
The police’s submission, filed in an affidavit earlier this week (6 July), was in response to a petition by Kalita seeking directions to authorities to not leak any allegations made against her to the media.
The Pinja Tod activist has been named in four FIRs for allegedly participating in protests at Darya Ganj last year and for her alleged role in the anti-CAA agitation in Jafrabad in February 2020.
Kalita had earlier alleged that the Crime Branch of Delhi Police has been “selectively leaking” information on the allegations against her and the evidence collected so far.
She had asserted that such an act has caused immense damage to her reputation and fundamental right to a fair trial as well as a presumption of innocence.
She had also sought directions to the police to withdraw allegations made in the “brief note” it had shared with the media on 2 June.
Following her plea, the Delhi High Court had on 10 June restrained the police from issuing any statement to the media or on any social media platforms on those accused in the Northeast Delhi riots cases.
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The court had also asked the concerned DCP of the Crime Branch to file a personal affidavit affirming whether any such information had been shared by the crime branch officials with journalists.
In response, DCP G. Ram Gopal Naik however said the note was to “put things in the right perspective” and to “satisfy the right of the citizen to know about the affairs of the society, and the right of the journalist to ensure an informed society”.
The Delhi Police’s affidavit also asserted that Kalita had started a “media trial” to gain public sympathy.
It accused Kalita “guilty of peddling a false social media narrative of state-sponsored oppression and subjugation against a particular community which incited the Delhi riots”.
The affidavit also makes her “guilty of peddling a false narrative of a political vendetta, state-sponsored pogrom, persecution and malicious prosecution against the said community”.
In order to bolster its submissions, the Delhi Police has referred to tweets made through Pinjra Tod’s Twitter account, and over 50 news articles.
Tweets, ‘opinionated’ news articles
The first tweet in the Delhi Police’s affidavit is by independent data researcher Srinivas Kodali, with the screenshot of a statement issued by the Pinjra Tod, condemning the arrests of Kalita and Natasha Narwal, also a member of the collective.
This represive action by @DelhiPolice against human rights defenders, specially students who are part of collectives like @Pinjratod who voiced against the state actions are unjust and undemocratic. This can't be allowed to continue. https://t.co/LfVkXk109C pic.twitter.com/WImlgkbUEe
— Srinivas Kodali (@digitaldutta) May 23, 2020
Another tweet, dated 24 May, called for immediate release of the two activities, and asserted that “criminalisation of dissent and persecution of democratic activists” must be stopped.
IMMEDIATELY RELEASE PINJRATOD ACTIVISTS DEVANGANA AND NATASHA AND ALL ARRESTED ANTI-CAA PROTESTERS!
STOP THE CRIMINALISATION OF DISSENT AND PERSECUTION OF DEMOCRATIC ACTIVISTS! pic.twitter.com/yIeBiXsu2g
— Pinjra Tod (@PinjraTod) May 24, 2020
On 26 May, Pinjra Tod had called for a “Twitter storm” demanding the release of all arrested “anti-CAA activists and political prisoners”, through use of the hashtags #ReleaseAllPoliticalPrisoners and #StopArrestingStudents.
Join the call for Twitter storm tomorrow from 5:00 to 8:00 PM by student organisations demanding release of all arrested Anti-CAA activists and political prisoners by using the hashtags:#ReleaseAllPoliticalPrisoners #StopArrestingStudents pic.twitter.com/5JTmpLhBhH
— Pinjra Tod (@PinjraTod) May 26, 2020
On 2 June, Pinjra Tod had called for a “nationwide protest against repression on anti-CAA protestors”, with the headline: “Sab Yaad Rakha Jaega”.
Referring to these tweets, the Delhi Police’s affidavit said they were aimed at “projecting the petitioner and her associates as victims of state subjugation so that she could gain sympathy in the eyes of the public and could influence and swing public opinion in (her) favour”.
The affidavit also lists 53 news articles, which it said contained “unverified, speculative and opinionated content”. The articles belonged to various news outlets, including The Wire, Scroll.in, The Leaflet, The New Indian Express, News18 and ThePrint.
The affidavit, however, did not sit well with Justice Vibhu Bakhru of the HC who said the police should have shown “some restraint”.
During a hearing Thursday, the court asserted that allegations made in the affidavit were “unwarranted” in view of the limited scope of the petition, which was to examine under what circumstances the police can issue official communiques or press notes about a case and in what manner.
“We cannot allow this kind of affidavit on record unless someone takes responsibility,” the court said, adding that some of the allegations in the affidavit were made irresponsibly.
The court also rapped the police for saying that since Kalita wanted a media trial, it was justified in sharing the information with the media. Justice Bakhru suggested that the document filed in the court be withdrawn.
Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi then told the court that he will not rely on the affidavit and will confine his arguments to the point of law being discussed. Following this, the matter was posted for hearing on 15 July.
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