New Delhi: Hours after the Delhi Police ended a 15-hour raid at his Nizamuddin West office, advocate Mehmood Pracha alleged that the raids were conducted at the behest of Union home minister Amit Shah. Pracha – who has been fighting the cases of a large number of victims of northeast Delhi riots – alleged that he has been trying to establish Shah’s links with the violence.
Pracha also claimed that the police has been forcing many Muslim victims to withdraw their complaints and charged that a forcibly extracted statement under section 164 from a complainant was being used to target him.
Talking to The Wire, Pracha said that during the raid, a team of the Delhi Police Special Cell made a copy of the data from his computer. “They had brought specialised equipment with them and they hacked my computer too.”
He said it was clear to himthat “[home minister] Shah sent them”.
The raid, which began at 12:40 pm on December 24, continued till around 3 am on December 25. It was related to a case in which a Delhi court had asked the Delhi Police to probe allegations that Pracha had “tutored” some victims and witnesses in the Delhi riots case to give “false statements”.
According to the police report, Ali, a victim of the riots, told the police that he was asked to identify an eyewitness named Sharif, a witness in another case, who he allegedly didn’t know.
In his order, additional sessions judge Vinod Yadav had directed the Delhi Police commissioner to issue directions to the special cell or crime branch to probe the allegations against Pracha.
Pracha had denied these allegations saying: “The allegations against me are that a client came to me, and after a few days left because he was disappointed that I wouldn’t do any ‘setting’ for him with the judge or the police – that I only fight the case legally.”
However, in pursuance of the order, Delhi police additional PRO Anil Mittal said, “A criminal case under appropriate sections of law was registered and investigation was taken up.” He added, “During the course of the investigation, search warrants to look for electronic and other evidence from the premises of two members of the Bar were obtained from the court and the same are being executed in a professional manner in Nizamuddin and Yamuna Vihar.”
The search warrant, issued on December 22, read: “This is to authorise and require investigating officer of this case to search for the said incriminating documents and metadata of outbox of email ID… wherever they may be found whether in computer or in the office/premises… including outbox of email ID… as well as other offices/premises where presence of such evidence are detected during the search/investigation, and, if found, to produce the same forthwith before this court.”
However, Pracha alleged, “The real intent was that they wanted to take my hard disk because it contained complaints against the RSS and the BJP with which we would have connected Shah to the northeast Delhi riots. But how could they have taken it. Also, did they expect me to have only one copy of it.”
Pracha said all central agencies were after him. “Be it the IB, NIA – they are all after me. The NIA has questioned me earlier too – but they too couldn’t find anything against me. Shah is after me but I am also after him”, he said, claiming there was a nexus between the minister and BJP leader Kapil Mishra, widely accused of being a key instigator of the riots.
‘Attack on lawyers’
“The biggest issue here is that this is an action against a lawyer,” he said. He explained that a lawyer cannot be faulted if a client makes a false submission.
“For the sake of argument, if a person goes to a lawyer and says that such and such thing has happened to him and you kindly draft my complaint, or that you file a reply on our behalf to a police notice, then a lawyer would only draft the complaint or reply on the basis of what is disclosed to him. If the information conveyed to the lawyer is incorrect, then will the police proceed against the advocate or the complainant?” he asked.
Also, he said, a lawyer is legally bound to not disclose to a third party what is discussed between him and his client. “I told the raiding team about it. So this is an attack on the lawyer who represents the last bastion that is prepared to take on the powers that be.”
Talking about the present case, he said that a person had approached him to file a complaint on his behalf, or reply to a notice under section 160 or file a statement under section 161 (of CrPC). “Now they [the police] are saying that he [the person] had filed a ‘false complaint’ and he is saying that he did not file this complaint. This is the issue for which over 200 police personnel reached my office and surrounded it. How was this such a big issue?”
Pracha also claimed that Muslim victims of the riots were being forced by the police to withdraw their complaints. “Secondly, they threatened hundreds of people from the Muslim community or filed ‘false cases’ against them to force them to withdraw their complaints [in the northeast Delhi riots cases]. In this case too they threatened him [the person mentioned above] and got a statement recorded under section 164. How difficult is that for the police?” he again asked.
Also, Pracha insisted that there were hundreds of examples of such pressure being mounted on the complainants. “People whose video recordings are there later claimed that no harm came to them, their shops were not looted, because the police scared them. These have been our complaints since the beginning. This is what we have been fighting for. We have also been trying to establish the link between the riots and Shah and we are confident of [proving] that… It is not possible for them to scare me, they can only kill me,” he said.
Pracha said he has full faith in the judicial proceedings and wants people to also retain their faith in the constitution. “We are doing everything through the courts. We want to ensure that ordinary citizens do not lose their faith in the constitution of the country. We want to show that even in such tough times people can get relief from courts. Also we want to send out a message to the weaker sections of the society that no matter how many sections of the judiciary, media or police may get compromised, don’t lose faith in the constitution – our system can still get you justice.”
‘Leading advocates criticise raid’
Meanwhile, a number of advocates have criticised the raids on Pracha. Senior Supreme Court advocate Indira Jaising termed it “a direct attack on the fundamental right to legal representation”.
The raids on Mahmood Pracha Lawyer for the defence in the Delhi riots case is a direct attack on the fundamental right of the right to legal representation , all lawyers must condemn this attack
— Indira Jaising (@IJaising) December 24, 2020
Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy too urged lawyers to stand up for Pracha and tweeted that through the raids the police will get access to a lot of data that’s protected by attorney-client privilege.
By seizing Adv Mehmood Pracha's computers for particular emails, police will get a lot of data that's protected by attorney client privilege. This goes to the heart of rule of law. Lawyers must stand up for Adv Pracha as much as for Adv P. Bhushan. https://t.co/t9YHTIwNDh
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) December 24, 2020
Another advocate Rishikesh Kumar, who is an additional standing counsel for the Delhi government, too expressed his anger on Twitter by tweeting: “An office of a lawyer to be raided like this is highly condemnable. The raids on Mahmood Pracha, lawyer for the defence is a direct attack on the fundamental right to legal representation . As a lawyer I strongly condemn this, not acceptable at all.”
An office of a lawyer to be raided like this is highly condemnable.
The raids on Mahmood Pracha Lawyer for the defence is a direct attack on the fundamental right of the right to legal representation .
As a lawyer I strongly condemn this ,not acceptable at all.
— RishiKesh Kumar (@rishikeshlaw) December 24, 2020