Delhi violence victims say police raided lawyer Mehmood Pracha’s office to pressurise them

Shanno, a resident of Subhash Mohalla who had accused Bhajanpura police officials of assaulting her and her teenage daughter inside the station premises, addressing a press conference following a raid by the Delhi Police Special Cell at the office of her lawyer, Mehmood Pracha. On 25 December, around ten victims of the Delhi violence, all of whom are represented by Pracha, held a press conference at the Press Club of India in the light of the police raid. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan
26 December, 2020

On the evening of 25 December, around ten victims of the Delhi violence held a press conference at the Press Club of India in light of the Delhi Police Special Cell’s raid at the office of their advocate, Mehmood Pracha, the previous day. Pracha is a defence counsel in several cases arising out of the violence that swept northeast Delhi violence in February this year. According to Pracha, the cases he handles show the complicity of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh cadre, the Delhi Police and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in the February violence. At the press conference, the victims described how the police was pressurising them to withdraw their cases, or change their lawyer and submit a statement that Pracha made them file false complaints. Sahil Parvez, one of the victims and Pracha’s client, said that the Special Cell’s raid was “just to create pressure on us, so that we back down.”

Over twenty police officials arrived at Pracha’s office, located in Delhi’s Nizamuddin East area, around noon on 24 December and left at around 2.45 am the next day. While addressing the media post the raid, in the early hours of 25 December, Pracha said that the officials demanded to seize his computer and manhandled him. “I did not want to give them my computer because it contained a plethora of videos and other evidence,” he said. Pracha added that the raid was an attempt to stop him from pursuing these cases.

Many of his clients had been threatened just because he was taking their case, Pracha said. He told the press he could give a “dozen of examples of people who have been falsely implicated because they came to me and tried to get cases registered against the police, against RSS’s members.” According to him, the police have threatened his clients, “Remove Pracha from this case or we will kill you, implicate you in false cases.” The riot victims who addressed the press conference reiterated these allegations against the police. The conference was held at 4 pm, but received scant media presence.

Each individual who spoke at the press conference described how the police had failed them and refused to investigate their complaints about the Delhi violence. The individuals included Khursheed Saifi and Feroze Akhtar, who had survived the attack by Hindu rioters and security personnel on the Farooqia Masjid—in the Brijpuri area of northeast Delhi’s Mustafabad locality—during the February violence. On 25 November, The Caravan reported how the Delhi Police was yet to register a first-information report against complaints about the attack. Saifi and Akhtar had filed complaints accusing the Delhi Police and naming rioters involved in the attack. But the only FIR registered into the communal attack appeared to ignore their complaints.

At the conference, Saifi and Akhtar spoke of how the police threatened them to alter their FIR’s to falsely implicate Pracha. Saifi said he had approached Pracha after the police refused to register his complaint. He said he had identified three members of the armed mob by name. “Police would pressurise me—‘Do you know the people who you have named in the complaint?’ I said yes. ‘What if names are removed from it?’” he said. “They wanted me to change my testimony.”

According to Saifi, the police had directly asked him to switch his lawyer and “give a statement that whatever three names are written in your complaint, they are false.” He said policemen regularly visit his shop and threaten him: “You didn’t change, we will see you”; “We will get your shop shut”; “Give a false testimony against Pracha and we will leave you or we will implicate you in the riots”; “We will kill you.”

Akhtar said he recently shifted houses because he was being harassed by the police. “They misbehaved with my wife, my children,” he added. Akhtar said when the police found out that Pracha was his lawyer, the family was subjected by random attacks, including an incident where his son was beaten up by unknown individuals. One time, Akhtar said, “I was on a scooty and I was thrown down, and they told me, ‘Take your case back.’”

He said that he once received a call from a police station, though he could not remember the name, seeking to implicate Pracha in a case. According to Akhtar, the caller said, “If you are fighting the case, should we get your lawyer changed?” The caller continued, “We will give you a lawyer. Which all statements have you given that Mehmoodji has made you write?” Akhtar said he replied that these were his own statements. The caller responded, “At least some lines must have been narrated by Mehmood bhai?” Akhtar reiterated that the statements were his own, at which point the caller pointed out that Akhtar was handicapped, did not own a house and had been treated in a private hospital. “If we help you a bit, would you be willing to add something in your FIR?” the caller asked.

Another victim and one of Pracha’s clients, Mohammad Saleem, said his house was attacked during the violence and since then he has been implicated in five cases. According to Saleem, around 15­–20 people once came to his house and asked him to withdraw his complaint. After he refused, he said a policeman visited him and said, “You went to Mehmood Pracha … Take the complaint back and say that he made us file a false things in the complaint.” He said the police harassment had scared him so much that he was afraid of going home.

Mohammad Mumtaz was also among the victims present at the conference. Mumtaz, a resident of Khajuri Khas, was at his family-run restaurant, Sanjar Chicken Corner, when a Hindutva mob of over hundred people began pelting stones at it. The Caravan reported in September that in a complaint to the commissioner of the Delhi Police, Mumtaz stated that he had seen the BJP MLA Mohan Singh Bisht among the Hindu rioters that night. At the conference, Mumtaz said the police had told him that his FIR would not be registered with names of the assailants even though he could identify them. Mumtaz said the police told him, “You get a simple FIR registered if you want, or go home.”

At the conference, Mumtaz said that he approached Pracha after he heard that the lawyer was fighting cases “free of cost” for the poor. “My uncle, Mehboob Alam sahib, he has been implicated in a false case and locked up in Mandoli jail,” he said. “He was tortured so much. … He was told, ‘Take back your case or you will be tortured more. Your family will be locked up.’” Mumtaz said he was directly pressurised as well. ‘They ask us to take our case back,” Mumtaz said, referring to associates of the MLA Bisht. And say that Mehboob Pracha has made you file a false case. Whatever money you want, we are willing to give it to you.’”

Wasim, a teenager, was the youngest client present at the conference. The assault on him was recorded in a viral video which showed policemen beating five injured men and ordering them to sing the national anthem. “Policemen keep telling us to take the cases back, you will be picked up, killed on the way somewhere,” Wasim said. “Policemen keep pressurising us. What happened yesterday—he is fighting for us, we stand with him. Policemen say this only, ‘The person you are going to … He will also be trapped, so will you and you will be shot down.’”

Parvez said he lost his father during the violence, and was being threatened for pursuing the case. “One or two times they came in police uniform,” he said. “They say, ‘Take the case back. … You will yourself get trapped in this. Think of your family.’” Mohammad Nasir Khan, a resident of North Ghonda, had suffered a serious gunshot wound to the eye during the carnage. “I was threatened many times by the police,” he said. Like around ten other clients, Khan had shown up outside Pracha’s office after he heard about the raid.

Following the raid, the Delhi Police Special Cell released a press note about it. It stated that the team was investigating a case relating to the usage of a forged notary stamp and the fabrication of evidence in a bail proceeding. The note said that the forged notary stamp was found to concern another advocate, Javed Ali, and the “creation of false/fabricated evidence … and a concocted/fabricated complaint” pertained to Pracha. The press note mentioned that the court had issued two search warrants for the two lawyers, authorising the investigating officer to “search for the said incriminating documents, wherever they may be found whether in computer or in the office/premise … and, if found, to produce them forthwith before this Court.”

According to Pracha, the case against him, and another lawyer, was laughable. “Catching the wrong notary is the police’s responsibility,” he said. “I don’t think 90 percent of the lawyers check what is the public notary’s identity … And lawyers don’t go themselves, clients only get it done.” Referring to the other allegation, Pracha said that the police had pressurised and “threatened” the complainant to say he had never filed a complaint. “A person whose shop was looted, and videographs for this exist too, is saying he never complained,” he claimed. Pracha pointed out that it was also strange that the raid had been conducted four months after the FIR was registered. “Court is on leave now,” he said. “Why did they pick today? All these things are there so that we do not approach the court.”

Mehmood Pracha, an advocate representing several victims of the violence that swept northeast Delhi in February 2020, spoke to media personnel outside his office around 3 am on 25 December, following a raid by the Delhi Police Special Cell. Shahid Tantray for The Caravan

Pracha narrated what happened during the 15-hour-long raid. “I told them, ‘You can see my computers, see my files,’” he said. But when the police asked to take the computer, Pracha said he refused because the court had not ordered a seizure of his computer. He said he told the police, “I am tied to the client-attorney relation, I cannot give you anything.” Apart from this, Pracha said, “They inserted pen drives in my computers.”

In Pracha’s view, the raid was conducted only because of the evidence he had about the Delhi violence cases. Pracha gave the example of the BJP leader Kapil Mishra, who had given an incendiary speech at Jaffrabad hours before the anti-Muslim violence escalated in the national capital. But according to multiple complainants whom Pracha represents, as reported by The Caravan in June this year, Mishra participated in the violence. “Kapil Mishra hasn’t just given a instigating speech,” Pracha said. “He has attacked people with armed men. We have filed such cases.” He added, “Their biggest grievance is that RSS’s people have been arrested in cases that my clients have filed.” For instance, The Quint reported that 16 members of the RSS have been chargesheeted in the complaint filed by Parvez.

After the raid, on 25 December, Pracha moved two applications before the Delhi district court seeking a copy of the video footage of the search and seizure process, and for a registration of an FIR against police officials whom he accused of threatening him. Pracha stated that the police ought to have returned to the court immediately upon the execution of the search warrant with the seized articles, but did not do so, which prompted him to file the application for the video footage. The court directed the police to file a reply to his application for the video footage, and to file a status report in the concerned case by 5 January.

For the Delhi violence victims who addressed the press conference, Pracha offered a small chance of receiving justice. “By social media, I got to know that something like this is happening with a messiah,” Nasir said, referring to Pracha. “I was very hurt after seeing this.” Parvaiz said, “They want us to leave his side. But inshallah, that will never happen. Humaari jaan lagi hui hai, insaaf ke liye.”— We have put our lives on the line for justice.