‘Why has the Gujarat government hurried to arrest him when Supreme Court is seized of the matter'

Several human rights organisations came together on Saturday to criticise the arrest of Gujarat IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt by the Narendra Modi government.

Addressing a press conference, representatives of these bodies termed the action vindictive and an attempt at intimidating a key witness just ahead of the filing of the charge sheet and start of trial in the Zakia Jafri case. (Mr. Bhatt is one of the witnesses in the case which the Supreme Court sent to the trial court last month). They emphasised that Mr. Bhatt's arrest came on the heels of an affidavit he filed in the Supreme Court in which he brought to light crucial facts of the Haren Pandya murder case.

In the affidavit, Mr. Bhatt claimed that he had “important documentary evidence” of the role of certain highly placed functionaries/politicians and police officers of Gujarat in the killing of Haren Pandya.

At one point during the press conference, the organisers connected a phone to Mr. Bhatt's wife Shweta, who said she feared for her husband's life in police custody. Ms. Bhatt, who spoke from Ahmedabad, broke down saying she had not been allowed to meet him. “Instead, we have been harassed. They raided our house yesterday [Friday] and ransacked the place looking for documents. They have come a second time today [Saturday]. They have also raided the homes of all our relatives.”

Mr. Bhatt was arrested on Friday on a complaint lodged by his former driver and constable, K.D. Panth, alleging that the officer had threatened and forced him to sign a false affidavit to support his claim that he was present at a late- night meeting at the Chief Minister's residence on February 27, 2002 — the day of the Godhra train carnage.

Teesta Setalvad of the Citizens for Justice and Peace said: “I, on behalf of Sahmat and other organisations, wish to place on record a complete sense of disgust and anger at the completely vindictive behaviour of the Gujarat government in arresting Mr. Bhatt.”

Accusing it of showing undue haste, Ms. Setalvad said Mr. Bhatt had contested the FIR against him (on the basis of which he was arrested) through a writ petition in the Supreme Court, which, in turn, issued notice to the State government on July 29.

“Why has the government hurried to arrest him when the Supreme Court is seized of the matter? Mr. Bhatt's arrest is clearly aimed at intimidating him and other witnesses in the Zakia case and sending a message to all those who want the truth exposed in the 2002 pogrom.”

Ms. Setalvad said: “It is very clear why he is being targeted. Firstly, because he spoke up about the conduct and role of the Chief Minister in the 2002 anti-minority pogrom. He spoke up about illegal instructions given by the Chief Minister on February 27, 2002. He also spoke about the deliberate failure of the Chief Minister to respond to repeated appeals for help on February 28, 2002, when Naroda-Patiya and Gulberg Society [in Ahmedabad] were being attacked by a well orchestrated mob in broad daylight.”

On the charge that by speaking up too late on the Pandya killing, the IPS officer had committed the crime of withholding critical information, she said: “Mr. Bhatt, in fact, placed every fact on record. As Superintendent of the Sabarmati prison, he had come across crucial documents regarding the role of senior functionaries, politicians and police officers. He forwarded these immediately to the Home Department for action as required by law. However, Mr. Bhatt was telephonically threatened by the then Minister of State for Home, Amit Shah, who wanted him to destroy the evidence. Mr. Bhatt then sent another report, where he placed the telephonic conversation and the threat on record. Hence it is not factual to say that he spoke too late.”

National Advisory Council member Harsh Mander said it was expected of senior government servants that they would stand up and defend the vulnerable. “As a former IAS officer, I can vouch for the fact that if an officer wants, he can control a riot within hours.” Mr. Mander said Gujarat cadre officers Rahul Sharma, R.B. Sreekumar and Mr. Bhatt had stood up to uphold the law. He said Mr. Bhatt was a whistle-blower who ought to be protected by law.