Mangaluru police block tribunal’s probe into firing during anti-CAA protests

Published : January 08, 2020 16:06 IST

Police lathicharge people protesting against the CAA in Mangaluru on December 19. Photo: PTI

A people’s tribunal led by Justice V. Gopala Gowda, former judge of the Supreme Court, on the December 19 violence in Mangaluru during the protests against the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act, was obstructed from doing its work by the Mangaluru Police. Two men, both Muslims, were killed when police opened fire during the protests, and later visuals showed policemen barging into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Highland Hospital and lobbing tear gas shells into the area where victims of the police attack were being treated. The tribunal members, including former Karnataka State Public Prosecutor B.T. Venkatesh and the senior journalist Sugata Srinivasaraju, besides Justice Gopala Gowda, visited Mangaluru on January 6 and 7.

According to Srinivasaraju, the tribunal was constituted at the invitation of a consortium of civil society organisations in the city. “We heard the depositions of victims and eyewitnesses to the violence that broke out in Mangaluru to ascertain the nature of events on December 19. We also spoke to victims of bullet injuries and doctors at Highland and Unity hospitals,” Srinivasaraju told Frontline.

According to a press release issued by the tribunal, it had sought permission from Commissioner of Police P.S. Harsha to do its work, but a day before the depositions were to be made, an Inspector from the Mangaluru North Police Station issued a notice disallowing the tribunal on the grounds that the State government had ordered a magisterial inquiry into the issues that led to the violence. “This course of action has been undertaken in an arbitrary manner without the authority of law by the said Inspector,” the release stated.

The depositions were to begin on January 6 morning at Surya Hotel in central Mangaluru, but this was delayed as the hotel owner “expressed his reservations with the nature of the event” and said that he “was wary of reprisals from the police and the other authorities”. Despite the delay, the tribunal managed to hear around 30 people who deposed before it. “All of them were victims of police action, passers-by and family members of those who had been shot. We had even extended an invitation to the police and the district administration to depose but they did not turn up,” Srinivasaraju stated.

After the proceedings were concluded, the tribunal members wanted to hold a press conference but could not get a venue for it. The press release said, “Under pressure from police authorities, it has become impossible for the People’s Tribunal to hold a press conference at any venue at this point in time as a number of hoteliers were only willing to provide a venue… on the condition that the organisers obtain permission from police authorities, which is not required in law.”

The tribunal will prepare a final report of its findings, but the efforts to hinder its inquiry clearly show that the Mangaluru Police wants to restrict any independent inquiry into the violence.

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