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Formation of Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat - Press Release

27 May 2011

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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)

Press Statement

Committee for the Defence of Teesta Setalvad and Justice in Gujarat

Nawab Building, 2nd Floor, 327, Dr. D.N. Road, Mumbai - 400 001

Date: 23 May 2011

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.

D) Conclusion:

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

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main48.asp?filename=Ne120211coverstory.asp

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

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=CAP/2011/02/11&PageLabel=12&EntityId=Ar01200&ViewMode=HTML&GZ=T

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 iton record?

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main48.asp?filename=Ne190211EXPLOSIVE.asp

4. February 2011 - HINDI OUTLOOK

http://hindi.outlookindia.com/articlefullwidth.aspx?270299

Jagane Waloki awaz ko Kuchalne ki police ki koshish

5. 14 FEBRUARY 2011 - ENGLISH OUTLOOK

http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?270310

Modi Finds A Target

6. 12 MAR 2011 - TEHELKA WHOSE AMICUS IS HARISH SALVE?

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main49.asp?filename=Ne120311WhoseAmicus.asp

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

http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIM/2011/03/17&PageLabel=15&EntityId=Ar01500&ViewMode=HTML

Bhatt’s testimony against Modi cut short

9. PUNISHING LAW ABIDING OFFICERS

http://www.gujarat-riots.com/subvrPunOfficer.htm

Note:

The behaviour of the Gujarat police/State has become more vindictive and
desperate......I have been false implicated by the Guj police in now four
separate criminal investigations and there is a strong possibility of
arrest...a Committee is being formed in my defence which will be announced at a Press Concerence on Monday in Mumbai (Justice Sawant Chairperson, Sureshbhai Mehta and Dr Asghar Ali Engineer Vice Chairs)

Could you consider looking into this for coverage — especially the scandal
and calumny being committed by the Gujarat Police in implicating victim
survivors who simply trd to retrieve bodies of their loved ones ? And now
me?

Please do refer to the Backgrounder attached and also the petition for
quashing of the FIR that narrates the entire gruesome episode including the
fact that it was the digging by victim survivors ( who had before 27.12.2005
approached authorities only to be callously turned down) that got us the HC
order for DNA testing on 29.12.2005. Moreover the DNA testing proved the
claims of the survivors and now we are accused!! This can only happen in
Gujarat. Advocate Kamini JaiswaL appeared for me in the Gujarat HC on May 20 and the matter will now come up on March 25 2011.

This is not about an individual it is about how a state behaves with victims
and human rights defenders

Thanks

Teesta