The Quint spoke to investigating officers in Delhi Police and also reached out to Pieter Friedrich for his version in this matter.
'Don't know Disha, Nikita or Shantanu', US based author and activist Pieter Friedrich has told The Quint. But the Delhi Police's allegations of a link between Friedrich and Disha Ravi, Nikita Jacob, and Shantanu Muluk in the toolkit case could spell trouble for the three activists.
Delhi Police sources say they will prepare a questionnaire for Friedrich after questioning Disha, Nikita and Shantanu and are also probing how and why Friedrich’s name allegedly appears in the toolkit case.
On the other hand, Friedrich has told The Quint,
I’m not a citizen of India. If any law agency of India reached out to me for questioning on any matter... I am not under jurisdiction of any Indian government entity and, as a US citizen, I have the US constitutional right to both freedom of expression and to remain silent.Pieter Friedrich
Why is Pieter Friedrich Relevant?
Friedrich's name surfaced for the first time during a Delhi Police press conference on 15 February. Police said that Friedrich's twitter handle @FriedrichPieter was mentioned in the "Who To Follow" section in the alleged protest toolkit, which has since been deleted.
Delhi Police claims this raised an alarm with them because 'Friedrich has been on the radar of India's security establishment since late 2006, when he was noticed in the company of Bhajan Singh Bhinder, alias Iqbal Choudhary.' Bhinder is allegedly a leading player on the K2 (Kashmir-Khalistan) desk of Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.
Delhi Police also claimed that Bhinder has been a POI (Person of Interest) for the United States' DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) for some time. They also claimed that Bhinder is currently running Psy Ops (Psychological Operations). But when asked for more details to support this claim, Delhi Police did not have more to add.
What is Delhi Police Probing?
While talking to The Quint, a Delhi Police officer said,
We have to probe why Friedrich found a place of relevance in the toolkit in the section “Who To Follow”. And only Disha, Nikita and Shantanu can answer this question. Did these three know Friedrich directly or did Mo Dhaliwal, founder of Poetic Justice Foundation, suggest his name?Delhi Police source
Delhi Police claims “the main aim of the toolkit was to to create misinformation and disaffection against a lawfully elected government”. They also say the kit was created by Disha, Nikita and Shantanu in close association with Poetic Justice Foundation, an allegedly pro-Khalistan group.
While Disha Ravi was arrested by the Delhi police on 13 February, she is in police custody till 19 February, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu are still absconding, says police. The Bombay High Court Bench At Aurangabad granted ‘transit anticipatory bail’ for 10 days to Shatanu on 16 February.
Any Evidence of Friedrich's Role?
So far the Delhi Police only has a ‘toolkit’ document which apparently has a mention of Friedrich’s twitter account. They say they are in the process of gathering more information.
Delhi Police says they have already sent a request to video conferencing platform Zoom for details of a meeting allegedly organised on 11 January by Mo Dhaliwal’s Poetic Justice Foundation. Police claims that 60 to 70 people attended this meeting, including Disha Ravi, Nikita Jacob, Shantanu Muluk and Dhaliwal.
When asked whether Friedrich attended this Zoom meeting? The police said,
We cannot confirm if Friedrich attended this meeting. That’s why we have requested Zoom to share details. It could be that Friedrich attended this meeting through his genuine email ID or through some anonymous name. It is to be probed.Delhi Police source
Don’t Know Disha, Nikita & Shantanu, Says Friedrich
The Quint reached out to Friedrich with a set of questions. Here are his replies.
Where you a participant of the alleged 11 January Zoom meeting organised by Poetic Justice Foundation?
I wish I had been. It would have been an honour to have planned the hashtags for the farmers’ protest. I stand with all peaceful protestors around the world in their struggle against totalitarianism, and particularly with Indians.
Do you know Disha Ravi, Nikita Jacob and Shantanu Muluk?
Are you associated with Mo Dhaliwal and Poetic Justice Foundation? Did you work with the Foundation in any manner?
No. I first heard about the Poetic Justice Foundation through reporting on it after the Republic Day farmers’ protest. I am delighted to be named by various sources as the “mastermind” of the “toolkit” for promoting the farmers protest, but can honestly take no real credit for it. All I have is guilt for not doing more to promote the peaceful protest of Indian farmers against the farm laws.
Delhi Police says that you have been on their radar since late 2006 for your association with BS Bhinder. What do you have to say?
If there is any criminal case against me in in India, which I doubt, it would only involve me opposing the rising fascist control over the country of the RSS.
I have co-authored two books with Bhinder (better known as Bhajan Singh), including one on how the origins of Sikhism are entwined with the anti-caste struggle. Our friendship centres on a mutual passion for working for equality and liberty for all of humanity and above all, for peaceful solutions to pressing human rights problems in India.
And has anyone from the Indian security establishment or Delhi police reached out to you for questioning in Disha Ravi’s case or for any other in the past?
I’m not a citizen of India. If any law agency of India reached out to me for questioning on any matter... I am not under jurisdiction of any Indian government entity and, as a US citizen, I have the US constitutional right to both freedom of expression and to remain silent.
Here are a few points to consider.
While Delhi Police claims that Poetic Justice Foundation is a pro-Khalistani group, it is not a banned organisation in India. So even if some 'link' can be demonstrated between them and Disha, Nikita and Shantanu, is it sufficient evidence to establish a case of sedition?
Secondly, there are no references to violence in the toolkit.
Third, Pieter Friedrich's alleged involvement is a loose end for the police to investigate. But again, as he is not a declared terrorist or member of a banned 'anti-India' organisation, will mere association with Friedrich, be proof of any crime in itself?
Fourth, it should be noted that in Supreme Court judgments on membership of banned organisations, mere membership without some active involvement in the organisation's activities, would not be sufficient to invite criminal action.
Mere association with someone connected with an organisation being investigated by the police, therefore cannot be proof of a crime. Further evidence of a conspiracy to commit specific criminal actions would be required.
It seems Delhi Police has their work cut out for them. Meanwhile Disha Ravi remains in custody.