Over 200 citizens located all over the country and abroad have come forward to form a Committee forward to establish a Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat (see Press Statement Below).
Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat
Nawab Building, 2nd Floor, 327, Dr. D.N. Road, Mumbai – 400 001
A.) Reason for the formation of the Committee:
Subversion of Justice is not a new phenomenon in the process of its administration. The recent turns of events in cases following the communal carnage of 2002 have borne its maximum brunt. Therefore, citizens concerned for justice to the victims of Gujarat Carnage have formed a "Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat". The Committee would undertake appropriate actions and activities to see that neither Teesta Setalvad nor anybody else is victimized for working for the cause of justice. The committee would also defend the human rights of vulnerable sections, and would include, but not be limited to, monitoring cases slapped on Teesta Setalvad, to stand in solidarity with her, to bring out detailed facts before the people pertaining to this selective victimization of Teesta Setalvad and those fighting for the cause of justice in Gujarat.
The ultimate objective is to allow the law and the process of justice to take its own course without being subverted or influenced by vested interests. The committee thus in the process will gradually bring out the truth before the people of this country though statements, meetings, engagement with the media and all available other platforms. Thus the committee seeks to address issues not only from the legal angle but also look at human rights abuses in the wider ambit of achieving equitable social justice for all.
The Committee is headed by Shri P.B. Sawant (Retd. Justice, Supreme Court) as the Chairperson. Shri. Suresh Mehta (Fmr. Chief Minister, Gujarat) and Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer are Vice Chairpersons. Smt. Romila Thapar, Shri. Irfan Habib, Dr. Ram Puniyani, Shri. Juzer Bandukwala, Shri. Irfan Engineer, Shri Sukla Sen and many others are members of the Committee.
The extended meeting of the Committee, including other additional members is also convened later on 25th May 2011 at 5 p.m. at Bombay Union of Journalists Hall, Second Floor, Prospect Chambers Annexe, D.N. Road, Fort, Mumbai.
B.) Immediate Concerns:
The malicious and motivated campaign against human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and the lawyers struggling for justice for the victims of the genocidal carnage in Gujarat in 2002 is aimed at distracting the course of public justice and attacking the personal liberties of human rights activists who have stood by the cause of truth, and justice. The attack against Teesta Setalvad is three – pronged, aimed at threatening her personal liberty through arrest, a widespread disinformation and malicious campaign to affect the process of justice and distracting her from the demands of the struggle.
Amongst the many examples of such subversion, following are the falsified cases against Teesta Setalvad, mentioned herein:
1) Pandharwada Mass Graves Case – This is amongst the most serious and imminent cases in which Setalvad is facing harassment by being falsely implicated in the case. She has been arraigned as ‘absconding accused,’ five years after distraught survivors claimed bodies of their relatives and moved the courts to establish their identity. A detailed note on this is attached below. There is also a strong possibility that the Gujarat Police may try to stage an arrest of Teesta Setalvad on false grounds in the Pandharwada Mass Graves Case soon.
In the latest update to this case, Teesta Setalvad has filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court at Ahmedabad dated 17/05/2011, against the State of Gujarat & Anr. Seeking to stay proceedings from offence registered as CR No. I – 3/2006 against her and other alleged accused in the Pandharwada Mass Graves case. This petition is due to come up for hearing in the Gujarat High Court on 25/05/2011.
In a nutshell, the background of the case is as follows:
On Dec 27, 2005, the victim survivors of the Pandharwada Massacre (where officially 27 persons were massacred) who were frustrated after the studied refusal of the state authorities to hand back skeletal remains of their dead relatives (which were dumped illegally by the State’s Police) began the digging themselves. The spot where they had been illegally dumped was off the Paanam River in Lunawada in Godhra district.
For months before they started digging, they had approached the authorities to dig out their remains. There was no response whatsoever from the authorities. Frustrated, they started the digging after having informed some members of the electronic media as also Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). The CJP’s then coordinator Rais Khan (who is since not with the organisation following irregularities since January 2008) contacted its Secretary in Mumbai. CJP through its Secretary Teesta Setalvad, clearly told them to wait at the spot till the authorities came. The Collector, the SP and lawyers were then contacted and the High Court of Gujarat was moved the next day. The local police, too, was informed by fax, of the frustration of victims by a senior functionary from Gandhinagar.
The victims and CJP together moved the Gujarat HC, the next day and got the prayer granted for DNA sampling of the remains from Red HILL, Hyderabad. The DNA sampling proved that the victimized survivors were right. Eight of the 22 skeletal remains were found to be of the relatives Pandharwada Massacre victims. After the initial order in the Gujarat HC, which was a breakthrough, a year later, the Gujarat HC dismissed the victims’ petition, asking for transfer of investigation of the massacre to the CBI. Ironically, the petitioners had pointed out, that the panchnamas related to the crimes had nowhere mentioned the skeletal remains.
The state has tried to say that, this was never an illegal dumping but a proper burial on forest land off a river. Legally speaking, the Panchnama of the original crime of mass murder has not listed the skeletal remains. Thus, disproving the version of the Gujarat state and police. Victims and Activists have argued that Lunawada has a large Kabrastan of more than a hundred acres and hence, if Gujarat Police could in fact not trace relatives, what was the need to so dump the remains rather than according them a dignified burial in the Kabrastan? Why dump them in an obscure spot off the river rather than give them to community leaders for a dignified burial?
Following its tradition of victimising human rights defenders and victims, the local police lodged an FIR on Jan 1, 2006 against victim survivors and Rais Khan of the CJP. CJP gave full legal aid to them. Subsequently, the bail and so also a stay against their arrest was granted by the Gujarat High Court. In the interim, Rais Khan today is no more with the organisation. Eventually, in a statement recorded under Section 164 CrPC has made false accusations against Media persons and Teesta Setalvad. He appears to enjoy full immunity and security within the state of Gujarat. Teesta Setalvad has since obtained anticipatory bail first from a Mumbai and thereafter from a Godhra court. This bail order stands. The date of the Godhra Bail Order was 15. 2. 2011. On March 18, 2011 she received summons under section 160 of the CrPC, asking her to remain present at the Lunawada police station for questioning. Since the section gives a woman the protection of being questioned/examined at her place of residence, Teesta Setalvad replied immediately, saying she was prepared to meet the police at her residence in Mumbai. Suddenly, the Investigating Officer was changed and thereafter a falsified charge sheet was filed naming her an "absconding accused" which belied the facts and detailed correspondence with the authorities.
A second summon was issued to her by the Lunawada Police, listing her as an accused and asking her to remain present on the 9th May 2011. A third summon has since been issued asking Teesta to remain present at Lunawada on the 31st May 2011.
Under the law this makes her more vulnerable to arrest. She has since pointed this out in response to the second and third summons issued to her, requesting an immediate correction in the charge sheet filed on the 3rd April 2011 which lists her as an accused. There has been no response to that and she faces threat of illegal arrest.
In midst of this propaganda, what is being missed is, despite the fact that victims through their efforts and the order of the Gujarat High Court, have established the identity of their dead relatives in 2005-2006, it has taken an order from the Supreme Court (February 2008 and a subsequent order of the Trial Court in December 2008) for conducting a dignified burial in August 2010, i.e. six years after the brutal massacre, albeit with no one being allowed to be present for the burial.
Ironically, the core and substance of false allegations being levelled today have existed since the genocidal carnage of 2002 carried out by an unrepentant Gujarat government. Absent is any concern for the lives lost or processes of justice which have been subverted or perverted. While only the people making allegations have changed, allegations have remained but the same. Since September 2010, the agency for dissemination of this malicious campaign has been a former employee who was asked to leave the organization Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) in January 2008.
The patently false allegations of doctoring evidence in various cases are being orchestrated at a time when crucial trials are nearing completion and the accused, amongst whom are powerful politicians and policemen, face charges of criminal conspiracy and murder. What is at stake is, the conviction of over 350 accused in nine major trials (Gulberg, Sardarpura, Odh, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gaam) that are underway with some nearing completion. Despite threats of intimidation and repression, eyewitnesses and survivors have deposed without fear in Gujarat Courts. They have done this while facing a hostile police and court atmosphere and all this while, they have stood by the contents of their affidavits filed through the CJP in the Supreme Court of India. At the heart of this sustained and malicious campaign is a calculated and cynical desire by the Gujarat State to derail the course of justice that is being monitored by the apex court. It wants to ensure the acquittal of the accused, many of whom are functionaries of the BJP, VHP and Bajrang Dal and also policemen and administrators. It is an unfortunate fact that the SIT (Special Investigation Team) appointed for the purpose of further investigation into these cases has sided, for the most part, with the arguments of the Gujarat State.
The intensification of malafide allegations is also aimed at attacking the individuals and the group responsible for sustaining the criminal investigation currently afoot against top ministers and officials in the Gujarat Government. Over the past few months, the apex court has passed orders directing the Amicus Curiae to see if an offence of conspiracy to commit mass murder and destroy evidence has been made out against the accused officials and ministers. This is the result of a complaint, and a tireless legal battle waged by Zakia Ahsan Jafri and Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens for Justice and Peace. It is no surprise then, that a government that has acted vindictively and maliciously against serving and retired IPS and IAS officers, who have stood by the Indian Constitution, is now training its guns on activists.
2) The ongoing Criminal Trials in Naroda Gaam and Sardarpura, in which she and her organisation have been giving consistent legal aid to the witnesses and victims
3) The Yasmeen Shaikh Affidavit in the Bombay High Court – Yasmin is a witness in Vadodara’s Best Bakery case where 14 people were burnt alive.She had turned hostile last year. Yasmin Shaikh has moved the Bombay High Court alleging that Setalvad had influenced her to testify against the accused. This after the February 2006 judgment in the Best Bakery re-trial that the "the signs of having been tutored were not found while analyzing the witness evidence’." It must be noted here that, Yasmin’s sister in-law Zahira Shaikh, a prime witness in the Best Bakery case, served a year in prison for perjury after she turned hostile a second time. She had first turned hostile in a Gujarat trial court and then in Mumbai.
C.) Additional Background Information:
The charges in the criminal complaint against the Gujarat Government are serious. Despite all the efforts of Gujarat Government along with it’s political mentors and allies to subvert the course of public justice, preliminary investigations have revealed details of a high level involvement of the senior officials and politicians, to have indulged in a series of criminal and unconstitutional acts which has led to engineering the mass massacre of 2,500 Muslims, post Godhra destruction. It has also revealed a subsequent manipulation of evidence and subversion of witnesses.
On March 15 2011, the SC pulled up the SIT saying that evidence gathered by them does not match with their inferences. On March 20, 21 and 22, the SIT was compelled to record the statement of yet another serving IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt who has recorded (media reports tell us) that he was present at a meeting at the Chief Minister’s residence when the latter clearly said "allow Hindus to vent their anger against Muslims." On May 5, 2011 the apex court has directed the Amicus Curiae to arrive at an assessment of whether or not a criminal offence is made out, without consulting the SIT.
The allegations against Government of Gujarat, of issuing criminal instructions to their police officers and thereafter, the illegal stationing of ministers, in the State and City Police Control Rooms are substantiated by the macabre violence, killings, rapes and burnings that were unleashed on Minorities in 19 districts of the State. The illegal handing over of the bodies of victims of Godhra Mass Arson to a functionary of a rabid right wing outfit – the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and not an official of the administration or police as also the inflammatory media coverage of the Godhra Incident by leading Gujarati newspapers, further points at how premeditated the conspiracy actually was.
These allegations and the current investigation are unprecedented in the history of independent India. Hence, the intimidation in four separate criminal cases, and consistent threats to Teesta Setalvad need to be seen in context of the historic inquiry underway. Attacks on her and other activists are brazen attempts to scuttle the very process of inquiry and justice.
These attempts at intimidation need to be seen for what they are, given the seriousness of charges against the Gujarat State and its functionaries. In 2004 too, after the Best Bakery trial was shifted to Mumbai a star witness made similar allegations. She had thereafter to serve a jail term for perjury while those found guilty of inducing her into falsehood escaped penal punishment.
Making false accusations of doctoring testimonies (FIR lodged under the IT Act, February 10, 2011), issuing affidavits and also of instigating victims to exhume the dead bodies of their loved ones (CR 3/2006), the Gujarat State’s police is using discredited persons to trump up charges against a person and an organization that has stood up for nine years in support for the legal battle of survivors.
After Tehelka’s exposure of the SIT report, The Smoking Gun (February 10, 2011), IPS officer Rahul Sharma was served with a show cause notice for placing crucial telephone records before the Nanavati Shah Commission and the SIT. Clearly, the Gujarat government is worried that offences could be registered against its chief functionaries for not only simply aiding a massacre in 2002 but thereafter also destroying evidence and subverting the course of justice by doing all it can do to intimidate victim survivors and human rights groups who have stood by them.
This despicable campaign was initially launched in May 2009, by the State of Gujarat’s counsel in the Supreme Court, and is now being echoed by Rais Khan. The purpose of this campaign is plain and simple – it is designed to disrupt the trials, derail the course of justice and influence the course of conviction. Earlier, in 2004, after the historic decision of the Supreme Court to transfer BEST Bakery trial to Maharashtra, similar such efforts were made through star witness Zahira Shaikh.
Then, on an application made by Teesta Setalvad of CJP, the Honourable Court had ordered an inquiry by the Registrar General of the Supreme Court that cleared Ms. Setalvad of malicious charges, and in fact punished the witness for perjury. It can be seen therefore, that from the outset, Government of Gujarat through agents and provocateurs has subverted all efforts to punish the perpetrators of the Anti Minority Pogrom of 2002. This onslaught against Setalvad and her lawyers is a vindictive bid to derail the course of public justice.
The Committee aims at educating people about the flagrant subversion of legal and social justice in Gujarat. It also aims at studying the situation in detail and assist the victims for attaining justice. In the lieu of this, it will study all the cases carefully for subversion or violation of justice and present a memorandum to the Governor of Gujarat in the month of June. The action programme will also include making suggestions for amending the ‘Communal Violence Bill’ to include clauses related to Subversion of Justice.
The Committee is gravely concerned at the continued persecution of Human Rights Defender Teesta Setalvad, Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP). Further, Advocate Suhel Tirmizi and several other human rights campaigners are also being harassed. These people have been in forefront of the struggle to secure justice for 2002 Gujarat riots victims. The efforts of leading activists to secure justice and dignity for the poor and dispossessed are a source of inspiration for upcoming human rights proponents. The divisive elements are now attempting to stifle their voice, by organizing an intimidatory and malicious campaign against those who are relentlessly fighting for this cause.
Note: – Petition can be obtained on request.
For further information, please refer to the following:
1. 12 FEB 2011 – THE TRUTH ABOUT THE GODHRA SIT REPORT
Here’s the smoking gun. So how come the SIT is looking the other way?
2. 11 FEB 2011 – THE TIMES OF INDIA, DELHI EDN
Gujarat top cop may be paying for his ‘initiative’
3. 19 FEBRUARY 2011 – ‘I was there. Narendra Modi said let the people vent
their anger’ DIG Sanjeev Bhatt knows the terrible truth about Gujarat 2002.
ASHISH KHETAN has his explosive revelations. Will the Supreme Court take it on record?
4. February 2011 – HINDI OUTLOOK
Jagane Waloki awaz ko Kuchalne ki police ki koshish
5. 14 FEBRUARY 2011 – ENGLISH OUTLOOK
Modi Finds A Target
6. 12 MAR 2011 – TEHELKA WHOSE AMICUS IS HARISH SALVE?
7. 17 MAR 2011 – TOI MUMBAI
SIT to quiz whistle-blower cop again on Modi riot role
DIG Had Said That CM Wanted To Allow Hindus to Avenge Godhra
8. 21 MARCH 2011 TIMES OF INDIA – 2002 RIOTS PROBE
Bhatt’s testimony against Modi cut short
9. PUNISHING LAW ABIDING OFFICERS
Original Email from Association for Protection of Civil Rights(APCR)