By Gareth Porter
The Delhi Police Special Cell, which has accused an Indian journalist and four Iranians of conspiring to bomb an Israeli embassy car in Delhi Feb. 13, has a long history of planting evidence on those it has accused and of obtaining false confessions, according to court records now cited by critics of the police unit.
The Special Cell (SC) was organised in 1986 to investigate terrorism and major crimes, but it has been given such wide latitude in its operations that it has violated legal norms with complete impunity, critics say.
But the unit’s efforts to frame those it accuses have been so obvious – often employing the same tactics over and over again – that a significant majority of its cases have been rejected by judges in recent years.
Of the 174 individuals against whom the SC has brought charges from 2006 through 2011, 119 of them – nearly 70 percent – have been acquitted, according to official figures obtained under India’s Right to Information Act by activist Gopal Prasad.
The SC response to that development has been to leak false confessions and evidence to the news media in a largely unsuccessful effort to sway judges.
Confessions falsified by the SC are “routinely leaked to the press to establish the guilt of the accused”, Manisha Sethi, an assistant professor at Jamia Milia University in Delhi and an activist with the civil rights organisation Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, told IPS. She described the result as “a vicious trial by media that indicts the accused well before the trial even begins”.
In the recent embassy car bombing, the first wave of leaks to the press about the alleged confessions of Indian journalist Syed Mohommed Ahmad Kazmi was timed to generate a wave of sensational articles in March portraying Kazmi as admitting to having been a participant in the embassy car bomb plot just before his bail application, as Sethi pointed out in an e-mail to IPS.
That maneuver prompted the court that was hearing Kazmi’s bail application to admonish the public prosecutor to refrain from such leaks.
A report, soon to be published by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association and a copy of which has been obtained by IPS, of 16 terrorism cases brought by the SC from 1992 to 2008 documents a consistent pattern of irregularities in police procedures that led the courts to conclude that the police had framed those who had been accused.
The report’s detailed accounts of the cases are based entirely on conclusions reached by the judges in rejecting the central claims of the SC.
Among the most prominent irregularities documented in the report are those relating to incriminating evidence said to have been seized from suspects and to alleged confessions.
Typical of the SC terrorism cases described in the report is the case of Salman Kurshid Kori. The SC claimed that it arrested Kori and two other Muslim men as operatives of the militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Toiba in December 2006. The SC reported seizing explosives, detonators and hand grenades from bags carried by each of the three men.
But the judge for the case heard evidence that the accused had been detained much earlier than the dates cited by police.
He also pointed out that there were no public witnesses to the seizure of the weapons, contrary to normal police procedures, despite the fact that a crowd had gathered to witness the arrest.
Even more telling, the “seizure memo”, which should have been written at the site of the seizure well before the “First Information Report” (FIR) was filed in the case, was found to have been written in the same handwriting and ink as the FIR.
Those obvious signs of police deception convinced the judge that the SC had framed the three men.
The SC officer who supervised the interrogation and arrest of the three men was then-Assistant Commissioner of Police Sanjeev Yadav, now an Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police and in charge of the embassy car bomb case.
The Kori case is not the only one over which Yadav presided to have been rejected by a judge because of indications that innocent people were framed. The report documents a total of four such cases – all from 2006 and 2007 – in which the seizure memo was signed at the same time and by the same person as the FIR. Also, no public witnesses attested to the seizures, and the suspects were found to have been detained much earlier than claimed.
Yadav is also under investigation by the Indian government for the deaths of five people who were said to have been killed in a violent “encounter” in May 2006 in Delhi’s Sonia Vihar district between an SC team and what was believed to be a criminal gang. Relatives of two of the dead alleged in a petition to the National Human Rights Commission that the victims had been taken from their residences by police and then killed in Delhi.
After examining forensic evidence surrounding the supposed encounter, the NHRC concluded in a mid-2010 report that no “cross firing” had occurred – and thus that the police account had been falsified. That report led to the launch of an investigation by a magistrate into the incident last September.
In a separate investigative report published last February on SC abuses in terrorism cases, Sethi described a common pattern in one case after another: alleged secret information from an informant about the arrival of a terrorist in Delhi, followed by dispatch of a police party to the point of arrival; unsuccessful efforts to get civilians to be public witnesses; the apprehension of the “terrorist”; and subsequent recovery of arms or explosives, which were displayed to the press.
Only when each of the cases went to trial was the SC narrative found to have been bogus, according to Sethi’s investigation, which was also based on court documents.
In the 2005 case of Moinuddin Dar and Bashir Amad Shah described by Sethi, the SC claimed that the two men were Kashmiri terrorists who had come to Delhi from Kashmir carrying 450,000 rupees (8,000 U.S. dollars) in a car loaded with arms and ammunition, after the SC had been informed by a confidential source when and where they were arriving. Upon arrest, the two men had allegedly confessed to their terrorist plan.
But Sethi recounted that the case soon fell apart in court when the judge found that the car full of arms and ammunition had been “planted” and “used as a tool to falsely implicate the accused persons in this case”. He found that the police vehicle that was supposed to have taken the police team to the site of the arrest had actually not moved that day, and that the two men had been held illegally by police in a hotel room for two weeks.
After investigating another 2006 SC terrorism case, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation called for three SC officers to be charged with lying under oath and creating false evidence. But despite several instances in which courts directed the Delhi Police Commissioner to initiate legal action against officers of the SC for various abuses, none have yet been punished.
*This story is the last in a three-part series, “The Delhi Car Bombing: How the Police Built a False Case”, in which award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter dissects the Delhi police accusation against an Indian journalist and four Iranians of involvement in the Feb. 13 bombing of an Israeli embassy car.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specializing in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan.