Indian police file rioting charges against government critics

NEW DELHI: Delhi police have filed charges against 15 people over Hindu-Muslim riots in the capital, a spokesman said on Thursday, prompting criticism from rights groups that authorities were targeting the opposition and minority Muslims.
February’s violence killed more than 50 people and drove thousands from their homes, most of them members of the Muslim minority, which forms about 15% of a population of roughly 1.3 billion. The riots followed months of sometimes violent protests against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against Muslims.
The charges were filed in a court in eastern New Delhi, said police spokesman Anil Mittal, adding that the evidence against the accused runs to more than 17,000 pages. Mittal did not identify those charged, but domestic media have named former members of two opposition parties and academics at one of the main protest sites, the Muslim-dominated university of Jamia Millia Islamia.
“By arbitrarily arresting outspoken activists, the government is not only attempting to silence dissent but also sending a message to supporters that they have free rein to commit abuses against minority communities,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch. Prashant Bhushan, a Supreme Court lawyer and vocal government critic, said the charge sheet was “farcical”.
Broadcaster NDTV called the investigation a “whitewash”, adding that several members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party made incendiary speeches hours before February’s riots but had escaped censure. The government and Delhi police have defended their handling of the case, saying those involved in the riots will be punished regardless of political or religious ties.
Meanwhile, underlining the alleged complicity of the Delhi Police in the communal riots that shook the north-east regions of the national capital in February, a delegation of political leaders who met President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday called for a judicial inquiry into the ongoing probe into the riots. The group also raised serious questions about the conduct of the Special Investigation Teams (SIT) set up by the Delhi Police.
In its memorandum to the president, the delegation comprising Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s Sitaram Yechury, Communist Party of India’s D. Raja, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Kanimozhi, Congress leader Ahmed Patel and Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Manoj Kumar Jha said, “There are serious questions about the role played by the Delhi police itself during the violence and also the manner in which the Police is harassing and attempting to falsely implicate activists and young people who took part in the anti-CAA/NRC/NPR movements as the perpetrators of violence.”
The letter also said that such is the Delhi Police’s “conspiracy” that it has dragged even Yechury, “the general secretary of CPI (M), a national political party and a parliamentarian of long standing repute”, and multiple intellectuals, academics and activists into the investigation as persons who had a possible role in fomenting violence.