About ten survivors of the North East Delhi communal violence of February 2020, came out in support of their advocate, Mehmood Pracha, at a press conference in Delhi on December 25, reported The Caravan. Parcha’s office had been raided on December 24 by Delhi Police Special Cell.
Khursheed Saifi and Feroze Akhtar, who survived a near-fatal attack by Hindutva rioters and security personnel at the Farooqia Masjid in the Brijpuri area of North East Delhi’s Mustafabad locality told media persons at the Press Club of India about how the police threatened them to alter their FIR’s to falsely implicate Mehmood Pracha.
Khursheed claimed that he approached Pracha after the police refused to register his complaint. He said he had identified three members of the armed mob by name. “Police would pressurise me; do you know the people who you have named in the complaint,” he asked, alleging that the Police wanted him to change his testimony.
The Caravan further reported that according to Saifi, the police had directly asked him to switch his lawyer and “give a statement that whatever three names are written in your complaint, they are false.” He said that the policemen regularly visited his shop to threaten him, allegedly saying things like: “You didn’t change, we will see you”; “We will get your shop shut”; “Give a false testimony against Pracha and we will leave you or we will implicate you in the riots”; “We will kill you.”
Feroze Akhtar, who also shared his dilemma about State excesses and arbitrary treatment by the Police, said that he felt compelled to shift houses to avoid harassment. He alleged that the Police did not even spare his family as they were subjected by random attacks, including an incident where his son was beaten up by unknown people. He also recalled an incident where he was pushed from his two-wheeler asking him to not pursue his case.
He also received a call from the Police Station where the caller asked, “If you are fighting the case, should we get your lawyer changed? We will give you a lawyer. Which statements have you given that Mehmoodji has made you write?” When Feroze said that it was his statement, the caller responded, “At least some lines must have been narrated by Mehmood bhai?”
Feroze Akhtar reiterated that the statements were his own, at which point the caller pointed out that he was handicapped, did not own a house and had been treated in a private hospital. Then, the caller asked, “If we help you a bit, would you be willing to add something in your FIR?”
Mohammad Saleem, another violence survivor and Mehmood’s client said that the Police had asked him to falsely place on record that Pracha had forced them into giving statements that were not true. He said the police harassment had scared him so much that he was afraid of going back home.
At the conference, Mohammad Mumtaz said the Delhi police had told him that his FIR would not be registered with names of the assailants even though he could identify them. Mumtaz said the police told him, “You get a simple FIR registered if you want, or go home”. He had approached Pracha when he heard that he was fighting cases free of cost for poor people. Mumtaz’s uncle, Mehboob Alam Sahib was falsely implicated in a case and locked up in Mandoli jail where he was severely tortured. He shared the similar plight of being harassed and pressured to withdraw his case.
The Caravan also reported on the youngest client Wasim present at the conference whose video showing policemen beating five injured men and ordering them to sing the national anthem went viral. “Policemen keep telling us to take the cases back, you will be picked up, killed on the way somewhere,” Wasim said. “Policemen keep pressuring us. What happened yesterday, he is fighting for us, we stand with him. Policemen say this only, ‘The person you are going to … He will also be trapped, so will you and you will be shot down.”
Since the raid on December 24, several lawyers, activists have condemned the attack. On December 26, the Delhi High Court Women Lawyers Forum wrote a letter to the President of the Delhi High Court Bar Association, Mohit Mathur, stating that the lawyers associated with the forum discouraged the investigative agencies from arraigning lawyers as accused in criminal cases, merely for intimidating them.
According to LiveLaw, the letter claimed that lawyers are being targeted by these investigating agencies and even though, “on the face of it, the proceedings initiated against such lawyers are ostensibly independent of the matters being handled by them, but the pattern emerging from all such instances, where lawyers are being targeted, is hard to ignore.”
Today, on December 28, the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) too, rose to the occasion and condemned the search and seizure conducted in Pracha’s office to lay hold of his computer for information, and also the brutal assault of a lawyer in Etah, Uttar Pradesh by the local police. It also called upon the Delhi Police to immediately forbear, cease and desist from using any information on the devices that have been seized.
The SCBA said that, “such a search/seizure is in the teeth of the specific provisions of law which recognise the client lawyer relationship and protects all correspondence between the advocate and his client. This encroachment on the rights of an advocate by the police violates the rights of the accused to a fair trial guaranteed under Article 21, and the protection against self-incrimination guaranteed under Article 20 (3) of the Constitution of India jeopardising the rights of the client to a free trial.”
Supreme Court Bar Association condemns the Delhi Police raid in the office of Advocate Mehmood Pracha and the police assault on advocate in Etah in UP.
“Seizure of confidential information protected by lawyer-client privilege prejudicially affects rights of accused” – SCBA pic.twitter.com/kL3w0WNpy0
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) December 28, 2020
Advocate Pracha has moved two applications before the Delhi district court seeking a copy of the video footage of the search and seizure process, and for a registration of an FIR against police officials whom he accused of threatening him. Pracha stated in his application that the police ought to have returned to the court immediately upon the execution of the search warrant with the seized articles, but did not do so, which prompted him to file the application for the preservation of the video footage. The court directed the police to file a reply to his application for the video footage by December 27 and to file a status report in the concerned case by January 5, 2021.
On December 27, Metropolitan Magistrate Udbhav Kumar Jain of the Patiala House Court directed the entire video footage of the search carried out two days ago by the Delhi Police at the office of Advocate Mehmood Pracha to be preserved with the seal of the court.
— Mehmood Pracha (@MehmoodPracha) December 27, 2020