The Supreme Court Wednesday granted bail to 21 persons accused of indulging in violence in Mangaluru on December 19 during anti-CAA protests. The accused had already been granted bail by the Karnataka High Court on February 17. However, the apex court stayed this order on March 6 on an appeal filed by the State Government. For six months though they were given bail by the HC, the accused could not be released due to a stay order of the apex court.
On considering an application for interim bail, a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice S A Bobde today proceeded to order the release of all accused. The bench, however, said that it had not treated the observation of the Karnataka High Court that it was not possible to prima facie determine the presence of the accused persons at the spot, as a final finding of the fact.
The Court also directed that the accused would report to the nearest police station on every alternative Monday and they would ensure that they do not participate in any violent activities/meetings.
In their plea, the accused persons contended that they were involved in peaceful protests but the police had resorted to the firing leading to the death of two persons. They submitted they have been in custody for more than seven months since December 22, 2019. The police, they said, had already filed a charge sheet and hence they were not required for investigations anymore.
The accused also added that after the apex court’s order of March 6, “the scenario has considerably changed with the fatal spread of Covid-19 pandemic throughout the country and the world.” They, thus, argued that it was necessary not to keep under trials unnecessarily detained as it would lead to overcrowding of jails and may cause a spread of the virus.
They were represented by senior advocate R Basant assisted by advocates Haris Beeran and Pallavi Pratap. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appeared for the State Government.
On December 19, 2019 there were anti-CAA/ NPR protests held in Mangaluru city that were met with police action. Two people were killed in Mangaluru in police firing after protests allegedly turned violent, and scores were injured, properties were damaged and several criminal cases were filed and with people also being arrested. Some journalists too were at the receiving end of police violence, while several journalists, especially from Kerala based media, were also detained by the police and later released. The State Government and the police claims that there was no police excess and that all actions by the police and district administration was in accordance with law, whereas the civil society organisations and the opposition have refuted the same, and believe that the police action was excessive, biased and specifically targeted the Muslim community.
Videos of the incident however tell a different story.
After this incident, Karnataka CM announced a compensation of Rs. 10 lakh for the families for each of the deceased, only to withdraw it later. He also accused the people who had come in from Kerala for allegedly setting a police station ablaze and damaging public property after which the Kerala government intervened to make a safe passage for the people to get back to their home state.
A team of human right and civil liberty activists from Karnataka, Kerala and Delhi conducted a fact-finding exercise to unearth the realities of the happenings of the events that took place in Mangaluru, Karnataka on December 19, 2019. After going through gathered evidence (videos and photos), they conclusively determined certain aspects of the incidents that occurred through the day of December the 19th.
They found, for instance, that heavy police deployment, including that of external KSRP forces was in place with preparations of arrangement of sand bags and riot gear being undertaken at the location.
The first incident on December 19, 2019, according to the report of the fact finding team, appeared to have occurred around 1.30 pm, when a handful of youth attempted to protest against the CAA but were dispersed by the police, which used excessive violence against them. From the videos circulating widely, it is apparent that their number was not more than 150 and that they were only shouting slogans. The protesters were violently thrashed, kicked, pushed around and abused before being thrown into police vans without any provocation in a premeditated manner. The police came down upon them with disproportionate force and violence.
The team also found out that there was some confusion amongst the youth about whether or not the protest announced for that day had been cancelled, as the message of cancellation issued after imposition of prohibitory orders under section 144 had not circulated to all.
According to the report, the police then went on a rampage and stormed into shops in the vicinity, pulling out people, selectively attacking Muslims. At around 4 pm, a team of police attacked Ibrahim Khaleel mosque where about 80 persons were praying peacefully. The police apparently sought to chase certain youth into the said mosque and then initiated an indiscriminate attack upon the mosque. The police reportedly also launched an attack of stones and teargas through and above the slats of the mosque gate, causing havoc and confusion.
When the infuriated youth retaliated with intermittent stone pelting, the leaders of the community were brought in by the police to calm the situation. It was during this time, that the former mayor of Mangaluru was hurt on the head by the police which again aggravated the situation.
At this point, the police began indiscriminate firing of guns and teargas. Two innocent bystanders were killed during this firing, both of which took place on Azizuddin Road, where the Mangaluru North Police Station is located. One of them was a 42-year old father of two and daily wage earner on the docks, who had stepped out of his house to offer Namaz. There was no mob present, yet tear gas and bullets was being fired into the road, one of which hit Abdul Jaleel in the head. In another incident on another end of Azizuddin Road, 23-year old Nausheen who was attempting to return home from the workshop he was working at, fell prey to the blind and indiscriminate firing when a bullet hit him in his midriff. Highland Hospital where many of the seriously injured were admitted, reported that there were 5 persons admitted with bullet and shell linked injuries.
Both were declared dead when they were on arrival by the Highland Hospital. Jaleel and Nausheen’s families filed complaints with the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the hospital administration filed a complaint and wanted action to be taken against the responsible personnel but no action was taken in this regard.
However, he report also states that the police even attacked the Highland Hospital demanding that the bodies be handed over to them as they were Medico Legal Cases (MLCs). The police upon arrival at the hospital were faced by an angry group of mourners, who pelted stones at the police outside the hospital. The police engaged in lathi charge outside the hospital. They did not stop there. The police then fired tear gas within the hospital compound and proceeded to storm the hospital. They tried to barge into patient rooms including the ICU.
The team also spoke to Dr.Rajeshwari Devi, District Medical Officer, Wenlock Hospital. She informed us that on December 19, 66 people were treated in the OPD of which 26 were civilians and 42 were police persons. Police continued to get treatment from the OPD till the 22nd of December. Apparently there were conscious attempts on the part of the police to make it appear that the number of policemen injured by the alleged stone pelting by the mob outnumbered civilians who suffered injuries from violence by police. The cases of police treated in Wenlock were mostly related to bruises, lacerations, contusions and swelling. There were two cases of bullet injuries in which one of the victims admitted took discharge immediately.
On December 20, 2019 too, the police beat up people who came out of the masjid after their offering their prayers. The curfew had been lifted during those hours (12:00 PM to 2:00 PM) and when the people questioned the police as to why they were beaten up, the police simply said that they did not know of the curfew being revoked.
The police also reportedly targeted shops and street stalls owned by the Muslim community.
Some open FIRs mention the accused as ‘Unknown Muslim Youth’. The report concludes that the fact that the attack on the masjid and people coming out of the masjid, that all who were admitted either for bullet/shell injuries and severe injuries due to lathi charge, even on those alighting from buses, were all Muslim indicates that the police force has been communalised.
Within 2 days of the incidents, all the CCTV DVRs have been taken away by the police. Based on the criticism that the police have already faced, it is alleged that this was done in an attempt by the police to cover their tracks. Similarly, on the matter of the internet ban, it appears that it was done only to prevent videos about the police violence from being circulated.
Demands of the fact-finding team
The team had demanded that the Court order a judicial enquiry into the events of December 19, 2019, including the event of the police barging into the Highland Hospital. It has also demanded that the FIRs lodged against various persons, predominantly the people from the Muslim community must be closed. The team has asked for the suspension for the various police officials and ex-gratia compensation for the families of the deceased among other demands.
The entire report by the fact-finding team may be read here.
The complete order may be read here.