As advocates Afzal Usmani and Ahmed Zakawat prepare to move court on 6 January against the UP police, both have told The Quint that attempts are being made to intimidate them. Despite that, they are all set to argue for the filing of an FIR against police officers in the case pertaining to the deaths of Suleiman and Anas during the anti-CAA protests of 20 December.
After Friday prayers, a procession turned violent in West UP’s Bijnor district leaving two dead and injuring several others. The clashes also resulted in houses being ransacked, stones-pelting and lathi-charge.
The two who died are Suleiman, a 20-year-old UPSC aspirant, and, Anas, a 25-year-old father of a six-month-old child. While the police said that Suleiman died when a constable fired in self-defence, his family claims he was only out for Friday prayers and was shot to terrorise the protesters.
Anas' family says he only stepped out to buy milk for his son and was nowhere near the protest site. Police say he died in public firing.
Both families are currently relying on Usmani and Zakawat to get an FIR registered against what they believe are wrongful deaths. They want to approach the courts, where they believe they will get justice.
Phone Calls, Visits and Mounting Stress
Usmani narrates how the looming threats have now turned too close for comfort.
"On 2 January, a sub-inspector went all the way to my house in Bijnor's Bhagdadansaar village. My brother was not home and I was prepping for the case. The policeman told my sister-in-law that she should inform the men in the family to not initiate any action against the police whatsoever. Then, on 4 January, I received a call from another police officer asking for my number and details about what my family does. What is all this? Can you help us?" Usami told The Quint barely two hours after he received the call.
Meanwhile, Anas’ lawyer, advocate Zakawat, said, "The police has filed a case against a locally renowned advocate Javed Aftab and placed a reward of Rs 25,000 on anyone who finds him. He was a respected lawyer in the region. Of course, there is fear that there might be baseless cases registered against us as well."
Aftab, who was present during the protests, has been on the run ever since.
Zakawat, however, clarifies that no direct threats have been made yet.
"I do not think, or rather hope, that the UP police would do that. The reality is that the matter is grave. The trust in the police has withered immensely after their disproportionately violent suppression of the protests. Let's see if the local court helps," he said.
Why the Need to Approach Court?
Usmani and Zakawat are set to appear in the local court, as the winter vacations end, on 6 January. Their grievance with the police falls under Section 156/3 of the CrPC. This section explains the powers of a magistrate. The section states that when a police officer is not registering an FIR, the person can approach the superintendent of police with a written application. In case the SP also does not register the FIR – or despite an FIR being registered, no proper investigation is done – the aggrieved person can approach the magistrate.
Despite both families having submitted written complaints on 28 December, the police has reiterrated that they will not file an FIR as their deaths have been clubbed with other offences by the rioters under the 2nd and 3rd FIRs filed by the police.
Why Cops Aren’t Filing the FIR?
Speaking to The Quint about the issue of an FIR not being filed, Additional Superintendent P Vishwajeet Srivastava said, “Suleiman’s death has already been mentioned in an FIR from the violent protests of 20 December. One event cannot have two separate FIRs. It has been clubbed with the various other offences that were committed by the protesters, including causing damage to public property, rioting, unlawful assembly, etc. The police continue to state that the protester attacked a police constable and was then killed in self-defence.”
When pushed further, Srivastava said, “We have forwarded their written application. That is all that can be done right now. Another FIR cannot be registered.”
Senior Lawyers Say, Cops Should’ve Filed 2nd FIR
The Quint reported on the FIRs not being registered and spoke to senior lawyers. They all categorically denied the logic that one incident can not have 2 FIRs.
Speaking to The Quint, Suleiman’s family’s lawyer Afzal said, “Ye police humein abhi bhi dhoka de rahi hai (The police is still cheating us). Police officers Ashish Tomar, Rajesh Solani, Mohit Sharma and three others picked Suleiman up, took off his clothes and shot him. We have eyewitnesses – Hindus and Muslims – to corroborate all of this. When there is a procedure involved, how can the police blatantly not follow it?”
Adding to how this will result in prejudice in the investigation against Suleiman’s family, Afzal said: “In this case, police has their version and we have ours. But because ours is not being accepted in the FIR, we will be the accused in the case. Here the murderers, who are the police, are behaving like they are the victims. We are being seen as the accused along with the other people who have been arrested for rioting etc. How is this justice?”
Senior criminal lawyer Satish Tamta also reiterated the need for a separate FIR. "When there is a homicidal death, the police always file a separate case. This death has happened using a firearm and in no way is it an accidental death. A separate charge sheet must be filed in this case which will only happen if there is a separate FIR,” he said.
Terming the police’s argument of self-defence as their version of the event, Tamta said: “No one is given a clean chit just because it is self-defence. It is only the police's version. They have to register a case and then the different versions are taken into account...and it has to be sent to court. They are clubbing all these offences by saying they happened during the riot. This is wrong."
Adding to this, Aman Khan from Human Rights Law Network said, “The current FIR is only against the rioters. There has to be a separate FIR against the policemen as this has a different narrative and the accused are different. They cannot club it with other offences.”
Abhinav Sekhri, a lawyer practising in Delhi, said that the police will need to register a separate FIR if they have already accepted that his death was the result of police firing.
“The allegation is that this is a separate offence. The existing FIR is on a narrative of unruly mobs vandalising property. But the narrative of the family is that the police fired without cause,” he said.
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