'Attempt to Cover up Police Excesses': Karnataka HC Grants Bail to Mangalore Protesters

The court also noted that photographs produced by the petitioners revealed that the policemen themselves were "pelting stones on the crowd".

New Delhi: The Karnataka high court on Tuesday granted bail to 22 people who had been booked by the Mangalore police on allegations of violence against police during anti-CAA protests in Mangaluru on December 19, 2019.

According to a report in LiveLaw, the court held that the “investigation appears to be mala fide and partisan”.

Justice John Michael Cunha passed the order in response to petitions filed by Mohammed Ashik and 20 others from Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts of Karnataka. The court also held that there was a deliberate attempt “to cover up police excesses by implicating innocent persons at the whims and caprice of the police”.

The court noted that while the FIRs mentioned that the involvement of the petitioners was captured by CCTV cameras and photographs, so evidence to that end had been produced and said:

“In an offence involving large number of accused, identity and participation of each accused must be fixed with reasonable certainty. In the present cases, a perusal of the 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 (Popular Front Of India) and they being members of Muslim community. Though it is stated that the involvement of the petitioners is captured in the CCTV footage and photographs, no such material is produced before this Court showing the presence of any one of the petitioners at the spot armed with deadly weapons.”

Additionally, the court also ruled that opposing the CAA could not be termed as an “unlawful object”.

Also read: ‘They Did Not Spare Anyone’: Man in Viral Mangaluru Video Recounts Police Excesses

The court also said that the investigating agency had not produced any specific evidence that proved that any of the petitioners who had been charged were present at the spot and had made allegations that the Muslim crowd was armed with weapons like stones, soda bottles and glass pieces. The court said that, on the contrary, photographs produced by the petitioners revealed that the policemen themselves were “pelting stones on the crowd”.

“The photographs produced by learned SPP-I depict that hardly any member of the crowd were armed with weapons except one of them holding a bottle. In none of these photographs, police station or policemen are seen in the vicinity. On the other hand, photographs produced by the petitioners disclose that the policemen themselves were pelting stones on the crowd.”

The bench also made notes of the fact that while the police had registered 31 FIRs against protesters, not a single case had been registered based on complaints made by the family of the injured and those persons who died in police firing.

“Even though the law required the police to register independent FIRs in view of the specific complaint made against the police officers making out cognizable offences, the respondent police have failed to register FIRs which would go to show that a deliberate attempt is underway to cover up police excesses by implicating innocent persons at the whims and caprice of the police,” the court held and also said that the police had registered FIRs “against the persons killed by the police themselves”.

“In the wake of the counter allegations made against the police and in the backdrop of the failure of the police to register the FIRs based on the complaints lodged by the victims, the possibility of false and mistaken implication cannot be ruled out,” the court said.

Passing the order to grant bail to the petitioners, the court said that “it would be travesty of justice to deny bail to the petitioners and sacrifice their liberties to the mercy of the District Administration and the police”. The bench also said:

“The records indicate that deliberate attempt has been made to trump-up evidence and to deprive the liberties of petitioners by fabricating evidence. It is not disputed that none of the petitioners have any criminal antecedents. The allegations levelled against the petitioners are not punishable with death or imprisonment for life. There is no direct evidence to connect the petitioners with the alleged offences. Investigation appears to be mala fide and partisan. In the said circumstances, in order to protect the rights and liberties of the petitioners, it is necessary to admit them to bail.”

Also read: The Contrasting Police Responses to a Play Against CAA and Reenactment of Babri Demolition

The court directed that the accused be released on bail after furnishing a bond in a sum of one lakh and two sureties each in the like sum. The accused have also been directed to remain present before the court when not to leave the court’s territorial jurisdiction.

A few days earlier, the Karnataka high court had also ruled that the imposition of Section 144 in Bengaluru on December 18, meant to block anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests, was illegal and that it did not “stand the test of judicial scrutiny laid down by the apex court”.