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The bizarre FIR against Teesta Setalvad as Zakia Jafri case approaches

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:23 IST

The charges

  • Activist Teesta Setalvad has been raided and interrogated by the CBI
  • Setalvad says she\'s being hounded because the final hearing in the Zakia Jafri case is about to begin
  • CBI says there\'s no question of hounding her
  • In its FIR, CBI alleges that funds received by Setalvad\'s company were a threat to India\'s internal security

The case

  • Gujarat HC is to hear Jafri\'s appeal against the clean chit to PM Modi and 59 others on 27 July
  • A lower court had accepted the SIT\'s report that there was no conclusive evidence of their involvement in the 2002 riots
  • Setalvad is a key member of Jafri\'s team
  • She claims the team has enough documentary evidence against Modi and several top officials

For nearly a month now, Teesta Setalvad has been spending most of her time sending documents to the CBI in her own defence.

Setalvad, a legal activist who has successfully fought for the conviction of over 100 accused in the 2002 Gujarat riots, has been raided and interrogated, and has filed anticipatory bail, for alleged Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) violations.

Also read: The state is doing its best to cripple us by freezing our accounts: Teesta Setalvad

High stakes

Setalvad thinks this is being done deliberately to keep her away from an important hearing in the Gujarat High Court on 27 July.

The court will begin the final hearing based on an application filed by Zakia Jafri against a lower court's clean chit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 59 others in the 2002 riots. Zakia is the widow of former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri, who was murdered by right wing mobs in 2002.

Setalvad describes the case as a 'historic legal endeavour', a case in which the Modi government and the ruling BJP have a lot at stake. The outcome may cause huge embarrassment for PM Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and several other senior functionaries and bureaucrats in the country.

Irrespective of which way the court's judgement goes, the hearing opens up possibilities for at least some of the accused to be summoned by the court or for a fresh investigation to be ordered in the case.

In her petition to the High Court, Jafri has argued that the 2002 riot killings were the result of a criminal conspiracy involving Modi, then Gujarat CM, and 59 others.

"Jafri, through this petition, attempts to look at criminal or administrative culpability for all the incidents during the Gujarat riots of 2002. So in that sense, it is a very historic legal endeavour," says Setalvad.

Legal history

On 8 June 2006, Jafri approached the cops to register an FIR regarding the criminal and administrative culpability of several people who were in senior administrative or political positions in Gujarat in 2002.

After the police refused to register the complaint, Jafri approached the High Court, which also refused to entertain her petition, and finally made an appeal to the Supreme Court, which appointed a Special Investigative Team (SIT) to look into the events.

On 27 July, the Gujarat HC will begin the final hearing in the Zakia Jafri case against PM Modi and 59 others

The SIT, headed by RK Raghavan, began investigations in 2009 and, in May 2010, filed its report, against the advice of the then amicus curae Raju Ramachandran, who thought there was sufficient evidence to begin prosecution. The SIT effectively said there wasn't enough evidence to launch criminal prosecution.

The SC asked the SIT to look at the report again and, this time, take the amicus curae's views into consideration. Finally on 8 February 2012, the SIT filed its closure report in a magistrate's court, with more or less the same conclusion. The Ahmedabad court accepted the closure report in December 2013.

Immediately after the lower court's acceptance, Jafri filed a criminal revision application before the Gujarat High Court, challenging the verdict. On 27 July, the Gujarat High Court will begin the final hearing in the same case.

Setalvad, who is part of the appellant's team, says they will use the evidence made available to the SIT, which she claims is plentiful.

Evidence against Modi and others

Some of the evidence that Setalvad and Jafri's other associates have, and are going to present, before the High Court is about the post mortems of kar sevaks killed in Godhra, which were conducted in public.

There is also evidence about an official meeting that was held immediately after the Godhra incident in a collector's office, where a senior VHP member was present, and about the controversial decision to bring the bodies to Ahmedabad, which is believed to have flared public sentiments.

Setalvad claims that she and her legal team are not relying on testimonies but documentary evidence, such as the affidavit that Sanjeev Bhatt filed in the Supreme Court, stating that he was in the meeting of officials where a VHP functionary was present, among other affidavits and official records.

"It's not just me saying 3,000 men gathered at the hospital to get a hold of the bodies of kar sevaks; it is in the Police Control Room records. That the hospital was attacked, that the mob was trying to get a hold of the bodies, that funeral processions were allowed even in that atmosphere, that [VHP's] Acharya Giriraj Kishore came there and addressed the mob, how does this add up?" asks Setalvad.

She adds, "That is the kind of evidence we have. We had the genesis in the petition, but it's all coming into place now with the documents collected from the PCR records, the SIB records, statements by police officers. And that is what makes up the Zakia Jafri petition now."

CBI's Strange FIR

Meanwhile, the CBI has filed an FIR against Setalvad which alleges that her organisation - Sabrang Communication and Publishing Pvt Ltd (SCPPL) - has received over Rs 1.3 crore from the Ford Foundation, in the form of foreign donations without any clearance.

However after leveling charges of various FCRA violations, the FIR, a copy of which is with Catch, gets more interesting.

In the FIR, the CBI lists the activities for which Ford Foundation had given Sabrang Trust the money. These are:

1. Organising public activities on a regular basis to bring together community leaders and popular personalities, dialogue among neighbourhood communities, schools, colleges and clubs, for a peace campaign.

2. Educating lawyers' association through a series of meetings on the issues of criminal law and its use and misuse.

3. Promoting media advocacy to be sensitive to the issues of minorities.

4. Counteracting adverse propaganda (being spread against particular communities) by creating strong civil society voices for engendering peace and changing the public discourse - monitoring the media and the administration will be part of this activity.

There is another point that the funds ought not to be used in the US or to travel to and from that country.

Right after listing these five points, quite strangely, the CBI questions these activities which to any normal citizen would seem unexceptionable. It states, "the motive behind the transfer of foreign contribution to SCPPL is highly objectionable and reflects interference towards the internal security and activities of India. Such acts of the foreign donors may be likely to prejudicially affect:

1. The security, strategic, scientific or economic interest of the state or

2. Harmony between religious, racial, social, linguistic or regional groups, castes or communities, or

3. The public interest

And hence violating section 9 of FCRA 2010."

The FIR further states, "It is mentioned that Sabrang, as part of its public campaign, would lobby with the government in the public sphere to deepen and broaden the concept of minority/minorities. It is stated that lobbying with political parties is not allowed as per FCRA, 2010."

CBI says transfer of funds to Setalvad's company reflects interference towards the internal security of India

Responding to Setalvad's allegations that CBI was hounding her on baseless charges, spokesperson Kanchan Prasad said: "Why should we hound anyone? There is a complaint from the Ministry of Home Affairs that we received, based on which we're carrying out our investigations. And what is the charge of being hounded? Have we misbehaved with her, slapped her, torn off her clothes? We are not a mindless agency. If we behave mindlessly the courts will throw us out."

Even if all the claims made by Setalvad were to be rubbished, the fact is that before the final hearing in the case begins, a lot of people, including senior politicians and bureaucrats from various parts of the country, will be following next Monday's developments in the High Court closely.

First published: 24 July 2015, 1:58 IST
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.