The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted bail to 21 members of the Popular Front of India (PFI), from Mangaluru accused of indulging in violence on December 19 last year during anti-CAA protests. Two people were killed in firing by the police on that day, which a fact-finding report had described as ‘premeditated’ and ‘selective targeting of Muslims’.
The accused PFI members had already been granted bail by the Karnataka High Court on February 17. However, the apex court stayed this order on March 6 on an appeal filed by the State Government.
In their plea, the accused persons contended that they were involved in peaceful protests but the police had resorted to the firing leading to the death of two persons. They submitted they have been in custody for more than seven months since December 22, 2019. The police, they said, had already filed a charge sheet and hence they were not required for investigations anymore.
While considering an application for interim bail, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice S A Bobde proceeded to order the release of all accused.
SC said in its order: “Having regard to the observation of the High Court that it was not possible to prima facie determine the presence of the accused persons at the spot, and without treating the said observation as final finding of the fact, we consider it appropriate to direct that the applicants be released on bail on furnishing bail bonds of Rs 25,000 each to the satisfaction of the trial court pending trial…”. The court also asked them to report to the nearest police station “every alternative Monday” and to ensure that they “do not participate in any violent activities/meetings”.
While granting them bail, HC Justice John Michael Cunha made several adverse remarks against the investigation and police in the order. The order stated, “The material collected by the investigating agency does not contain any specific evidence as to the presence of any one of the petitioners at the spot.”
It said, “In an offence involving a large number of accused, identity and participation of each accused must be fixed with reasonable certainty. In the present cases, a perusal of…records indicate that the identity of the accused…appear to have been fixed on the basis of their affiliation to PFI, and they being members of the Muslim community.”
The state contested the HC order, saying it “has not considered the clear evidence produced by the prosecution”.
Anti Citizenship Act (CAA) demonstrators across India carried out peaceful protests as anger swelled against the highly sectarian and anti-Constitutional Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens (NRC). The BJP-ruled Karnataka government had clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 in Mangaluru and other parts of the state, to prevent protests against the act. However, on December 19, hundreds of protestors gathered at various parts of Mangaluru defying the ban to protest against CAA.
A fact-finding report from January 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), 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.