India: Police arrest activist seeking PM Modi’s accountability in Gujarat riots


An Indian activist who campaigned for decades to hold Prime Minister Narendra Modi accountable for his alleged role in the deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, has been arrested by the police on Saturday.

Teesta Setalvad has been arrested by the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) of the Gujarat Police based on a complaint alleging that she “exploited” the emotions of riot victim Zakia Jafri, a move that has sparked fresh fears of a crackdown against critics of Mr. Modi.

Ms. Jafri is the wife of former member of parliament Ehsan Jafri, who was killed by a rampaging mob on the morning of 28 February 2002.

Ms. Setalvad, 60, now faces several charges, including giving or fabricating false evidence, false charge of offence made to injure and forgery for the purpose of cheating. Also accused with Ms Setalvad are two police officers from Gujarat.

The three are accused of conspiring to mislead the Special Investigation Team (SIT) tasked with probing the Gujarat riots and the role of Mr. Modi’s state government at that time.

The arrest came just a day after India’s top court dismissed a petition filed by Ms Jafri challenging the acquittal of Mr. Modi and dozens of other politicians in the riots case. The top court singled out Ms. Setalvad in its order, stating that she was “vindictively persecuting” the dispute.

“Antecedents of Teesta Setalvad need to be reckoned with and also because she has been vindictively persecuting this [dispute]for her ulterior design by exploiting the emotions and sentiments of Zakia Jafri, the real victim of the circumstances,” the court order said.

Immediately after the court order was issued, a backlash against Ms. Setalvad began from the prime minister’s inner circle and supporters.

Amit Shah, the current home minister of India and a close aide of Mr. Modi since his time as Gujarat’s chief minister, hit out at Ms. Setalvad alleging that she gave false information to the police in the riot case in order to frame Mr. Modi.

Ms. Setalvad runs an organisation called Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) set up in the aftermath of the deadly riots in 2002 when official tallies say a thousand people, the majority of them Muslims, died. Some unofficial tallies count the deaths as higher than 2,000.

Mr. Modi was accused of at least inaction in preventing the riots, and at worst of deliberately allowing them to run their course as a punishment of Muslims in his state. The allegations led to calls for Mr. Modi’s resignation and condemnation from members of his own party at the time.

But repeated investigations have cleared Mr. Modi and his state government of any wrongdoing, citing a lack of evidence, and on Friday the Supreme Court upheld an order to close the case.

Ms. Setalvad’s arrest has sparked outrage from lawyers, rights activists and journalists who on Sunday described it as a step towards silencing Mr. Modi’s critics.

Ms. Setalvad first accused Mr. Modi directly in March 2007 when he was still chief minister of Gujarat. In a special criminal application before the Gujarat high court, she named herself as a co-petitioner alongside Ms. Jafri, who had sought a legal complaint against Mr. Modi and 61 other politicians, bureaucrats and police officers for their alleged role in allowing the riots to go ahead.

Ms. Setalvad was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award, under the last Congress government. But she has also faced her own critics, having been accused of tutoring victims of the riots as well as alleged fund-raising irregularities. (Source: The Independent)