03, Dec 2021 | CJP Team
The eleventh day of the hearing in the Special Leave Petition (SLP) by Zakia Jafri and Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) was supposed to end with SIT’s submissions and a brief submission by the State of Gujarat. But Solicitor General, Tushar Mehta appearing for the State of Gujarat, merely regurgitated cases that were used as a form of intimidation via malicious prosecution, to hound and defame CJP Secretary Teesta Setalvad, who is the second petitioner in the wider Zakia Jafri case that pertains to the conspiracy behind the Gujaart genocide of 2002.
Perhaps the frustration stems from the fact that the Supreme Court has not made any remarks about her locus standi in the case. In the last hour of the hearing, SG Mehta came before the bench in what was expected to be an attempt to defend the State of Gujarat against the allegations made by the petitioners, on basis of law and facts. However, it only turned out to be a mud-slinging exercise, where Mehta conveniently skipped crucial details in many cases where Setalvad has been exonerated and even granted protection by the highest court of the land!
CJP was born right after the Gujarat 2002 carnage to serve as a tool to aid in the quest for justice for victims and survivors. Our aim is to take all the cases to their logical conclusion in the courts so that there can be closure and healing. CJP has played a key role in putting together the incredibly challenging investigative ground work in the Zakia Jafri case. CJP through its Secretary Teesta Setalvad is also the second petitioner in the case after Zakia Jafri.
Thus, the purpose of making an appearance by the State of Gujarat today was not to showcase how the State authorities had done their job right in controlling the spread of the anti-minority violence. Instead, it was more about deflecting attention from their glaring failures by bringing up cases that were part of the regime’s witch hunt against Setalvad and CJP.
It can be rightly called a witch hunt since many internationals publications have also vouched for this in their reports including those by New York Times, BBC as also organisations like Frontline Defenders. That aside, even courts of law have from time to time found no merit in allegations of Setalvad ‘tutoring’ any witnesses in the cases and have even granted reliefs in the cases she was hounded by which included false allegations of embezzlement of funds.
While these issues have now become stale as they have been partially put to rest, the state of Gujarat once again feeling threatened by the many glaring acts of omission and commission by the powers that be as revealed by Zakia Jafri’s petition, highlighting the larger conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat genocide. The Gujarat government thus decided to resurrect these cases, with a clear intention of deviating from the main facts and allegations in the case and to undermine Setalvad’s credibility, given how she is a co-petitioner in the current SLP being heard by the Supreme Court, and the petitioners’ efforts to bring justice to the thousands of victims of the violence.
Allegations of False Affidavits
SG Mehta read out the complaint of former employee of CJP, Rais Khan, who had previously alleged that he used to get the false affidavits signed by the victims at Setalvad’s behest. The allegation was that Setalvad and “tutored” Gujarat riots survivors to make their plight sound more gruesome and shocking than their actual experience. But the truth is that during the course of cross examination during trials, all these witnesses were confronted with the so called “false affidavits”, and they all admitted that they willingly swore the affidavits, purchased the stamp paper for executing them, the affidavits were prepared in their presence and read out to them in vernacular. Most importantly, they all categorically said that Teesta Setalvad was not even present when the affidavits were being prepared!
In fact, the special court in Mehsana that in 2011, convicted 31 people for their role in the Sardarpura massacre, completely rejected the allegations of “tutoring” against Teesta Setalvad and CJP. In its order, the court held, “The witnesses have specifically denied that, Teesta Setalvad has told them as to what evidence was to be given in a case. Considering the evidence and fact in this regard when we consider this fact mere discussion about the case would not necessarily indicate tutoring.” The court elaborated, “It is not an accepted proposition that, the witnesses are never to be contacted by any one or spoken to about the matter regarding which they are to depose. A number of things can be told to the witnesses such as not to be nervous, carefully listen to the question put to them, state the facts before the Court without fear, therefore it does not appear any objectionable morally or legally.” Most importantly, the court clarified, “Tutoring a witness is quite different from guiding him as to his behaviour. In the present case, the injured witnesses were in such a state of mind that without the active support of someone they might not have come before the court to give evidence at all. The encouragement and the advice if provided by Citizen for Peace and Justice that cannot be considered as tutoring and simply because of that, we cannot infer that the witnesses are tutored.”
What’s worse, is that Mehta conveniently failed to mention that Setalvad was even granted anticipatory bail by Sessions Court with respect to similar allegations of “tutoring” witnesses to submit false affidavits in the Naroda Gam case, the second such case.
This brings us to the credibility of Rais Khan, a disgruntled ex-employee who has, since 2010 (32 months after he was discontinued from services of field coordinator of CJP, a remunerative post where rental accommodation was also provided), literally been forum shopping and has been at the root of several malicious and false cases against Setalvad. He has approached multiple trial courts specially hearing the Gujarat 2002 cases, the Nanavati-Shah Commission, the SIT and the Crime Branch of the Gujarat police. In two judgments, in the Sardarpura matter and the Naroda Patiya matter, the judgments have passed remarks against Khan labelling his conduct as interference in the administration of justice. Yet, this did not dissuade the State of Gujarat from relying on his allegations in their submissions before the Supreme Court on December 2.
The “Embezzlement” case where the money didn’t go missing!
SG Mehta also read out substantial portions of allegations of embezzlement made against Setalvad by the Gujarat government. This was yet another example of malicious prosecution that was reported in a particularly sensational manner by media houses seen as close to the regime. But truth is that this was just another attempt to undermine Teesta Setalvad’s credibility at a time when she was in the process of filing an appeal along with Zakia Jafri at the Gujarat High Court.
While Setalvad is an internationally recognised human rights defender, journalist and educationist, her partner Javed Anand is a journalist and human rights defender himself, was drawn into this maelstrom in 2015, shortly after a new government came to power at the Centre, and the vendetta intensified. Anand is an office bearer of CJP, a co-founder of Sabrang and Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy.
When Setalvad and Anand appeared before the Gujarat High Court seeking anticipatory bail in this case of embezzlement, the single-judge bench had denied them the bail. This same judgement was read out in great detail by SG Mehta at the hearing today with a certain intention to malign Setalvad as she happens to a co-petitioner before the apex court. However, what SG Mehta failed to mention was how in a subsequent order, the Supreme Court granted them protection (which continues till date) in the same case, thus effectively discounting what the High Court had observed in its judgement! Yet, this judgement of the High Court was read in great pomp by SG Mehta before the apex court.
Since, SG Mehta clearly glossed over important facts in this case, we are today laying before you submissions by Setalvad and Anand before several hearings of the Supreme Court in 2015. They had pointed out how every transaction was official and not out of turn:
- The transfers to personal accounts were sanctioned for the payment of travel and other expenses of lawyers.
- The transfers towards Sabrang Communications were sanctioned expenses towards shared expenses. Since its inception, CJP has never incurred any rental expenses being located at the family residence of the Setalvads in Mumbai.
- All audit reports of both trusts were duly filed with the Charity Commissioner.
- Both Setalvad and Anand had submitted over 30,000 pages in voucher copies of accounts to the Investigating Officer (IO).
- Since its inception, CJP has been offering legal aid to survivors of mass crimes and other rights denials.
- The Gulberg memorial managed to raise just Rs 4 lakhs, an amount that is untouched to date. Moreover, not a single donor has ever made any complaints about either trust.
The First Information Report (FIR) or police complaint in this so-called embezzlement case has been countered by hundreds of witness survivors who have stood by Teesta Setalvad and CJP. The FIR of January 2014 has not yet resulted in a chargesheet despite the passage of over four years and despite the submission of over 20,500 pages of accounts and vouchers to the Crime Branch. In the interest of due disclosure and transparency, Teesta Setalvad, CJP and Sabrang had their accounts re-audited and examined by prestigious auditors who have denied any embezzlement.
Setalvad and Anand have been a picture of grace and fortitude during an extremely derogatory campaign. They have always cooperated fully with all investigations and supplied all investigative authorities with detailed documentary evidence.
A detailed account of how Setalvad has been constantly targeted by a vindictive state using false cases, intimidation tactics and a vicious media campaign may be read here.