The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday came down heavily on Mangaluru city police stating there was a deliberate attempt to cover up police excess by trumping up charges against innocent people. The HC’s comments came in connection with the violence that erupted in Mangaluru during a protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in the district on December 19, 2019, in which two people were killed in police firing.
Granting bail to 21 people arrested by the police during the anti-CAA protests in the city, Justice John Michael Cunha observed that the overzealousness of Mangaluru police in handling the protests was evident from the fact that they registered FIRs under IPC Section 307 for attempt to murder against persons they themselves had killed in firing on December 19 last year.
“In an offence involving a large number of people, the identity and participation of each accused must be fixed with reasonable certainty. In the present cases, the identity appears to have been fixed on the basis of their affiliation to PFI and they being members of the Muslim community. Though it is stated that the involvement of the petitioners is captured in CCTV footage and photographs, no such material is produced before the court showing the presence of any of the petitioners at the spot, armed with deadly weapons,” the judge noted.
In the statement of objections filed by the State Public Prosecutor-I, it was stated that there was a hint of Muslim youths holding a protest on December 19, 2019, opposing the implementation of CAA. Prohibitory orders were clamped in that connection. This assertion indicated that the common object of the assembly was to oppose the implementation of CAA and National Register for Citizens (NRC) which, by itself, was not an “unlawful object”, the judge pointed out.
‘Deliberate attempt to fabricate evidence’
“The records indicate that a deliberate attempt has been made to fabricate evidence and to deprive the petitioners of their liberties. Any criminal antecedents of the petitioners are not disputed… There is no direct evidence to connect the petitioners with the alleged offences. The investigation appears to be mala fide and partisan,” the court observed as per The Hindu.
‘Pictures show cops throwing stones at crowd’
The High Court also noted that photographs of the day produced by the public prosecutor show that members of the crowd were not armed except for one person who was holding a bottle. It was also observed that the accused persons were not directly linked to the protests nor were they seen holding weapons in photographs or CCTV footages.
“On the other hand, photographs produced by the petitioners show that the policemen themselves were pelting stones at the crowd. The petitioners have produced copies of the complaints lodged by the dependants of the deceased who died due to police firing and the endorsement made thereon reveals that even though the law required the police to register independent FIRs in view of the specific complaint made against the police officers making out cognizable offences, the police have failed to register FIRs. This goes to show that a deliberate attempt is underway to cover up police excesses by implicating innocent persons at the whims and caprice of the police,” the judge observed, as per The New Indian Express.
In multiple First Information Reports (FIR) filed after the incident in December, Mangaluru police accused ‘unknown Muslim persons’ for instigating violence in the city. The FIRs registered stated that these men were armed with weapons like stones, soda bottles and glass pieces.
“The allegations levelled against the petitioners are not punishable with death or imprisonment for life. There is no direct evidence to connect them with the alleged offence. The investigation appears to be malafide and partisan. In the circumstances, in order to protect the rights and liberties of the petitioners, it is necessary to admit them to bail,” the judge said.
Fact-finding report implicates police
Last month, a fact-finding report involving representatives of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) All India People’s Forum (AIPF) and National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO), has stated that the police action on anti-CAA and NRC protesters in Mangaluru on December 19 in which two persons were killed was ‘premeditated’ and ‘selectively targeted Muslims’.
The interim report by the prominent human rights groups said that the police selectively attacked Muslims, targeted shops belonging to the community and even attacked a mosque, where prayers were going on.
Videos from the protests area showed police personnel firing at the protestors and using tear gas and brute force to disperse the crowd. Two people, Jaleel Kudroli (42) and Nausheen Bengre (23) were killed in the police firing.