BENGALURU: Noting that there was a deliberate attempt to cover up police excesses by implicating innocent persons at whim, the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday granted conditional bail to 21 people who were allegedly involved in violence during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Mangaluru.
Allowing the bail petitions of Ashik and 20 others from Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts, Justice John Michael Cunha said the overzealousness of the police is also evident from the fact that FIRs were registered under Section 307 of IPC against the persons killed by the police themselves.
“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 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.
‘Pics show cops throwing stones at crowd’
Justice Cunha also said the material collected by the investigators did not contain any specific evidence regarding the presence of any of the petitioners at the spot. On the other hand, omnibus allegations were made against the Muslim crowd of 1,500-2,000, alleging that they were armed with weapons like stones, soda bottles and glass pieces. The photographs produced by the SPP depicted that hardly any member of the crowd were armed with weapons, except one of them holding a bottle. In none of these photographs, police station or policemen were seen in the vicinity, the judge noted.
“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.
In the wake of counter-allegations against the police and in the backdrop of their failure to register FIRs based on complaints lodged by the families of victims, the possibility of false and mistaken implication could not be ruled out, the judge said. In these circumstances, it would be a travesty of justice to deny bail to the petitioners and sacrifice their liberties to the mercy of the district administration and police. The records indicate that a deliberate attempt has been made to trump up evidence and to deprive the liberties of the petitioners by fabricating evidence. None of the petitioners have any criminal antecedents, the court said.
“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.
Charges against petitioners
The petitioners were arrested and remanded in judicial custody after the anti-CAA protests on charges of being members of an unlawful assembly, armed with lethal weapons, attempting to set fire to the North Police Station in Mangaluru, obstructing the police from discharging their duties and causing damage to public property, etc., on December 19 in violation of the prohibitory orders. They moved the High Court as their bail pleas had been rejected by a sessions court in Dakshina Kannada.