Bengaluru: The Karnataka High Court on Tuesday granted bail to 22 people accused of violence at Mangaluru that took place on December 19 after police opened fire at a crowd protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Two people had died in the ensuing chaos.
A bench of Justice John Michael Cunha observed that in the wake of counter-allegations made against the police and in the backdrop of the police’s failure to register an FIR based on complaints lodged by victims, the possibility of false and mistaken implications cannot be ruled out.
“The records indicate that deliberate attempt has been made to trump up evidence and to deprive the liberties of petitioners by fabricating evidence. There is no direct evidence to connect the petitioners with the alleged offences. Investigation appears to be mala fide and partisan,” said the judge. “In the said circumstances, in order to protect the rights and liberties of the petitioners, it is necessary to admit them bail.”
The court also came down heavily on the police for not identifying each of the accused, but for merely alleging there were involved in the incident based on their affiliation to the Popular Front of India (PFI) and based on them belonging to the Muslim community.
“The photographs produced by learned SPP-I depict that hardly any member of the crowd was armed with weapons, except one of them holding a bottle. In none of these photographs, police station or policemen are seen in the vicinity,” said Justice Cunha. “On the other hand, photographs produced by the petitioners disclose that the policemen themselves were pelting stones on the crowd.”
“In an offence involving a large number of accused, the identity and participation of each must be fixed with reasonable certainty. In the present cases, a perusal of case records produced by the learned SPP-I indicate that the identity of the accused involved in the alleged incident appear to have been fixed on the basis of their affiliation to PFI and they being members of Muslim community,” he further said.
The court said although the police said they had photographs and CCTV footage showing the involvement of petitioners in the violence, no such material was produced before the court.
The statement of objections said there was a hint about Muslim youths holding a protest opposing implementation of the CAA by the central government, leading to the imposition of prohibitory orders in Mangaluru. “This assertion indicates that the common object of the assembly was to oppose the implementation of CAA and NRC, which by itself is not an ‘unlawful object’ within the meaning of section 141 of IPC,” said the court.
The court said that the material collected by the investigating agency does not contain any specific evidence proving the presence of any of the petitioners at the spot of violence, while allegations were made about the Muslim crowd being armed with weapons like stones, soda bottles and glass pieces.