Teesta Setalvad’s Arrest and the ‘Larger Conspiracy’
On June 25th 2022, activist Teesta Setalvad was arrested based on the Zakia Jafri Judgment
On 29th June 2022, a group of over 300 former judges, advocates and activists wrote a letter to Chief Justice Ramana to suo moto clarify that the Zakia Jafri Judgment was not intended to have any ‘adverse consequences’. The letter was written in light of the shocking arrest of Teesta Setalvad, co-petitioner in the Zakia Jafri case.
On June 24th 2022, a 3-Judge Bench comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and C.T. Ravikumar dismissed Mrs. Jafri’s petition which challenged the SIT report and the Magistrate’s decision in the Gujarat Riots case. The Judgment was delivered 7 months after the Court completed 14 days of hearings in the case. Interestingly, the Judgment had a few sharp comments for Teesta Setalvad, co-petitioner in the case—that she was pursuing an ‘ulterior design’ through the case and deserved to be in the dock. Within a day of the Judgment Ms. Setalvad was arrested.
SCO traces the aftermath of the Judgment and the concerns raised over the chilling effect on petitioners and witnesses if the Court finds their cause(s) devoid of merits.
On June 25th, 2022, Teesta Setalvad was arrested by a unit of the Gujarat Anti Terrorism Squad. The Gujarat police also registered FIRs against Former Gujarat Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) Sreekumar and former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt. Mr. Sreekumar, who was ADGP during the 2002 riots had levelled serious allegations against senior Gujarat officials concerning wilful inaction by the police. Mr. Sanjiv Bhatt had alleged that he was present at a late night meeting at then Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s house, where he claimed that police officers were instructed to not take action against Hindu rioteers. The Gujarat police arrested Mr. Sreekumar. Mr. Bhatt is lodged in Palanpur jail over unrelated offences. The Gujarat police also filed a request to transfer him for interrogation.
What are the charges?
The FIR filed by Darshan B. Barad, a police inspector from Ahmedabad, on behalf of the State of Gujarat appears to rely extensively on the Zakia Jafri Judgment.
The Judgment accused Ms. Setalvad of attempts to ‘keep the pot boiling’ and for pursuing the case ‘for ulterior design’—allegations repeated in the FIR against Ms. Setalvad. It also stated, ‘As a matter of fact, all those involved in such abuse of process, need to be in the dock and proceeded with in accordance with law’.
Teesta Setalvad, co-petitioner in Mrs. Zakia Jafri’s challenge petition, is accused of ‘conjuring, concocting, forging and fabricating’ facts and documents. The FIR claims that the 16 years of litigation in the Zakia Jafri case was intended to convict several senior Gujarat state officials for offences carrying capital punishment—32 allegations against 63 persons regarding a “larger conspiracy” behind the 2002 riots.
Further, she is accused of influencing and tutoring witnesses to make statements against the Gujarat government, and making them depose on affidavits prepared beforehand.
Former IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt is accused of forging fax messages and other records, and of falsely accusing then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi of giving instructions to police officials to refrain from taking action during the Godhra riots.
Former ADGP Sreekumar is accused of ante-dating and affixing office stamps without the knowledge of the issuing authority to falsely implicate senior State officials in grave sections of law.
The Flip Side
On the same day of her arrest, Ms. Setalvad filed a handwritten complaint before the Mumbai police alleging that she had been assaulted by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) during her arrest. The complaint also alleges that no arrest warrant was issued against her, proper procedure was not followed by the ATS officers while remanding her and that she was prevented from speaking to her lawyer, Mr. Vijay Hiremath.
Ms. Setalvad was taken from Mumbai to Ahmedabad by the Gujarat ATS on the same day—a move she claimed was to intimidate her. She emphasised that the arrest was politically motivated and that she ‘seriously fears for [her] life’.
On 26th June, Ms. Setalvad was produced before the Metropolitan Magistrate in Ahmedabad who remanded her to Gujarat police custody until July 2nd for investigation. Ms. Setalvad has stated that she will cooperate with investigative authorities.
Update: Justices U.U.Lalit, Ravindra Bhatt and Sudhanshu Dhulia heard Ms. Teesta Setalvad’s bail application on August 22nd, 2022. Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal, representing Ms. Setalvad, read out the FIR lodged against her and argued briefly that the Supreme Court must intervene since its own Gujarat Riots Judgment formed the basis for the allegedly illegal arrest. The Bench issued notice, ordering the Gujarat Police to respond to the bail application within two days.