In Delhi riots charge sheet, police say WhatsApp used to mobilise protests

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The Delhi Police on Wednesday filed a charge sheet under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act (UAPA) and various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against 15 people for allegedly conspiring and orchestrating communal riots in north-east Delhi in February.

The charge sheet was filed by Delhi Police’s special cell, which is probing the conspiracy behind the riots, in the court of additional sessions judge Amitabh Rawat . Local police stations in north-east Delhi such as Seelampur, Jafrabadand the Delhi Police’s crime branch are also carrying out parallel investigations into the case, and have already filed charge sheets.

Those named in the latest charge sheet are Natasha Narwal, Devangana Kalita, Asif Iqbal Tanha, Ishrat Jahan, Meeran Haider, Safoora Zargar, Khalid Saifi, Taahir Hussain, Mohd Parvez Ahmed, Mohd Illyas, Shahdab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Saleem Malik, Mohd Saleem Khan and Athar Khan. The accused have all denied any wrongdoing.

Former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid, who was arrested on Sunday night, on a charge of conspiracy leading to the riots, has not been named. The police, however, informed the court that they may file a supplementary charge sheet later. Khalid has also denied the charges and said that the police was trying to frame him over his opposition to the Citizensship (Amendment) Act, or CAA.

The investigation has been questioned by several people — politicians, academics, IPS officers — for being biased against anti-government voices.

Special cell officers told the court that the charge sheet relies on call detail records and WhatsApp chats. It runs into 17,000 pages, and the police have listed 747 witnesses, 51 of whom have recorded their statements under CRPC 164 (before the magistrate). Such statements are admissible evidence in a court.

Charging the 15 accused of triggering the riots, police said that, on February 23, some anti-CAA protesters converged at pre-decided areas in north-east Delhi as per their plan and started blocking roads. Police said their intent was not to block roads but to ensure communal tension as the places had mixed population of Hindus and Muslims.

In the charge sheet, police have alleged that the sit-in protests started in “minority dominated areas” but later moved to those with “mixed population” to create tension. Police have given the names of five such sites in the charge sheet. The police have also said that the alleged conspirators had created at least 25 WhatsApp groups to mobilise the protests and plan the riots.

The court has listed the matter for Thursday when it is likely to take cognisance of the charge sheet.

“Of the 21 persons arrested in the case so far, police have charged 15, based on scientific, documentary and testimonial evidence gathered during investigation,” a police officer said.

The remaining six accused, including Khalid, could be charged in a supplementary charge sheet after the police gather evidence against them, the officer added.

Brought to the court in steel boxes, 2,692 pages of the vast charge sheet specifies the charges against the accused whereas rest of the pages include annexures such as statement of accused, witnesses and other case records.

Police contended that accused were using the anti-CAA protest sites to deliver inflammatory speeches, mobilise people and orchestrate the riots. Police have detailed in the charge sheet how the “core committee members” such as Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Safoora Zargar, and members of Pinjra Tod group, Popular Front of India, and other such people had a series of meetings, for the protests and also discussed possible consequences of their plan, a police officer said, quoting the contents of the charge sheet.

The police told the court that the evidence includes WhatsApp chats of February 24, the time when riots were happening. It said that WhatsApp groups were used by the key conspirators for inciting violence in Seelampur-Jafarbad area.

“At that point, key conspirators were guiding their foot soldiers about violence in the area. The key conspirators were directly in touch with their foot soldiers,” it said.

“WhatsApp groups were used by conspirators for violence in Seelampur-Jafarabad area. There were 25 protest sites in 25 cities. 25 WhatsApp groups were especially created for each city. The impression was given that they were anti-CAA protest groups but through these conspirators were being guided,” the police said.

The police said that further investigation into the matter is continuing.

At least 53 persons died while 400 others were injured in clashes between Hindus and Muslims that broke out in different parts of north-east Delhi on February 24.

Criticising the probe by the Delhi Police, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury had said, “Why are hate-mongers, their provocative speeches of ‘Goli maaro’ not apprehended? Because they are with the BJP.”