Expressing concern over the arrests of anti-CAA activists including political activist Umar Khalid, former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Ribeiro tells Preetha Nair that the Delhi police is not conducting a fair probe in the North Delhi riots that rocked the capital in February. Ribeiro had earlier written to the Delhi Commissioner of Police SN Shrivastava, questioning the investigation.
Q A day after your letter to the Delhi Police commissioner questioning the investigation on North- East Delhi riots, student leader Umar Khalid has been arrested. Do you think they are conducting a fair probe?
A The extended deadline for the Delhi police to file the charge sheets in the FIRs in Delhi riots is getting over on September 17. Umar Khalid’s arrest came just days before this. Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), the charge sheet has to be filed within three months. If the police fail to put up the charge sheet in three months, the accused has to be released. The police are doing this to extend the detention period of the accused persons in jail. In fact, the police should put up the charge sheet so that the case can be heard. If the police are sure that they have the evidence, then these people shouldn’t remain in jail.
Q Khalid’s arrest was based on his speeches and involvement in the anti-CAA protests. But many have pointed out that there was no call for violence in his speech.
A The Delhi police want to put Khalid in prison. They are not bothered whether his speech was about ‘peace’ or not. They are taking advantage of the draconian UAPA law.
Q In your letter, you said that the Delhi Police was targeting peaceful protesters, while sparing senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders such as Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Verma who made communal speeches. What made you write a letter like that?
A I wrote the letter because the investigation is not going in the right direction. We have seen on TV channels how the senior BJP leaders are making provocative and communal statements. But no action was taken against them. That’s why I wrote to the Delhi Police Commissioner.
Q You also condemned Delhi Police’s naming activists like Harsh Mander, Delhi university professor Apoorvanad and many others.
A I think the police are chasing the people who are critical of them. Freedom of speech is our fundamental right and people are exercising it. We need to learn to tolerate different opinions. It upsets me that many youngsters are also being arrested for their alleged involvement in the riots.
Q Did you get any response from the Delhi Police commissioner?
A Someone from Delhi Police told me that they are not being partial in the probe and that they don’t differentiate between Hindus and Muslims in their involvement in the riots. Let’s wait and see what happens in the court.
Q You are probably the most celebrated police officer in the country and as a Director-General of Punjab Police, you have steered the state through the worst years of terrorism. Have you seen such a situation in your career?
A I haven’t seen this kind of one-sided action by police before. The police have to act in a fair manner. Whoever commits offense should be prosecuted. I have worked with many governments in my long career. I have never seen such a situation in my professional life.
Q Do you feel that the Delhi police are acting under political pressure?
A It’s happening. Even during our times, political bosses tried to influence us in some cases. However, they never coerced us if we didn’t give in. They always used to listen if we insist on the truth. I didn’t face any pressure even during former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time. Though I was retired, I used to be a member of several committees appointed by the BJP government. It was never a problem for me.
Q Do you feel that the handling of the Delhi riot case is going to be a blot on its record?
A Delhi police must be given a chance to prove their cases. They should put up the charge sheets and prove which is correct and which is not. Suppose they have evidence, we can’t say they are wrong. They can’t arrest anyone at the last moment and detain them without trial. This is not fair. They are punishing people without trial. The disturbing fact is that there is no bail under UAPA. The Delhi police haven’t shown us what evidence they have. The truth should come out.
Q CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that the police probe on Delhi riots and Bheema Koregaon is on similar lines. Do you see a pattern here?
A Yes. The same pattern is being followed in both the cases where people are getting arrested for conspiracy charges. I am not taking any sides here.
Q Delhi police are also using ‘disclosure statements’ of ‘accused persons’ in the riots to implicate Khalid and others. Will these ‘unsigned letters’ stand in the court?
A When the police note down statements from the accused person under CrPC section 164, the police are not supposed to get their signatures. In the court, lawyers of the opposite side will cross-examine the statements. That’s the procedure. Everyone wants to know whether these ‘disclosure statements’ will stand the test of cross-examination or not.