A prominent Indian human rights activist who led a campaign to hold officials accountable for the 2002 riots in the western state of Gujarat has been arrested and charged with fabricating evidence against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Activist Teesta Setalwad was detained by an anti-terrorism squad in Mumbai on Saturday and flown north to the neighboring state of Gujarat to face charges related to a case brought against Mr. Modi when he was the state’s top official.
Although he was never found guilty, for years Indians have been asking if Mr. Modi could have contained or stopped the sectarian riots in which more than 1,000 people have been killed. Ms Setalwad was detained after India’s highest court on Friday rejected a petition challenging Mr Modi’s rehabilitation in the conflict.
Shortly before her arrest, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah accused Ms Setalwad of giving false information about the riots to the police in order to tarnish Mr Modi’s image. Mr. Shah noted in an interview with Asian News International that Ms. Setalwad’s name was mentioned in the higher court’s verdict.
The minister said her NGO fired police complaints against Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, “and the pressure from the media was so overwhelming that every statement was treated as the truth.”
One of the most horrifying episodes of violence between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat took place at the Gulbarg Society, a Muslim residential complex, where a rumor spurred on by a Hindu leader caused a crowd. 69 people were killed, including Ehsan Jafri, a former Indian MP who provided shelter to Muslims, mostly women and children, who were threatened during the attack by thousands of Hindus armed with stones, iron bars and gasoline-soaked rags. .
Despite Mr. Jafri’s repeated appeals to powerful people for help, he was cut to pieces and burned.
Mr. Jafri’s widow, Zakia Jafri, now 85, is fighting a legal battle trying to establish that the riots were the result of a high-level conspiracy involving Mr. Modi. The United States imposed a visa ban in 2005 to chide Mr. Modi over the episode, though he denies any role.
Ms. Setalwad has long supported Ms. Jafri and other victims of the sectarian massacre. It was Ms Jafri who filed the petition against Mr Modi, which was rejected by India’s Supreme Court on Friday.
Over the years, Ms Setalwad and her husband Javed Anand have been investigated by various government agencies, alleging they misappropriated funds intended for victims of the riot, among other allegations. Related case pending in court.
A court ruling last week that Mr. Modi was not guilty found no evidence of criminal conspiracy behind the mob violence against Muslims, effectively ruling out any further legal action against Mr. Modi.
But the three-judge panel went even further in their decision, pointing the finger at Ms Setalwad for “exploiting the emotions of Zakiah Jafri” and saying: “In fact, anyone involved in such an abuse of due process should be in the dock and act in accordance with the law.”
Just a day after the ruling, and hours after Mr. Shah’s interrogation, a group of officers took Ms. Setalwad into custody at her family’s seafront compound in Juhu, an upscale suburb of Mumbai.
The police also arrested a former senior police officer in Gujarat, R.B. Srikumar, who questioned the role of his department’s officers during the riots, accusing him of providing false information.
In a video from Gujarat on Sunday, Ms Setalwad is seen walking out of court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, with her left arm raised to show bruises she says were inflicted by Gujarat’s anti-terrorism police force.
Ms. Setalwad filed a complaint against an officer who she said attacked her in her bedroom during her arrest when she demanded to see her lawyer.
Why are you pushing me? you can hear her talking to the officer in video posted on twitter. “I’m not a criminal.”