Toolkit case: Some relief for activists as police defend action
Activists facing prosecution for allegedly creating and editing a social media toolkit on the farmers’ protests received some relief from the courts on Tuesday, even as Delhi Police defended its arrest of a 22-year-old woman in the case that has triggered widespread criticism from free speech advocates.
The Aurangabad bench of the high court granted Beed resident Shantanu Muluk protection from arrest for 10 days on a personal bond and surety of ₹50,000. His co-accused, Mumbai-based lawyer Nikita Jacob, also asked for anticipatory bail and the high court will give its decision on Wednesday.
In Delhi, a magistrate’s court allowed Disha Ravi, who was arrested Saturday night and is facing a sedition charge for allegedly helping edit the document, access to a copy of the FIR, remand application, meetings with her lawyer, calls with her family, warm clothes, books, masks and home-cooked food.
Police said it asked Zoom to share details of a virtual meeting in January where Jacob, Ravi, Muluk and roughly 70 people allegedly fixed details of the document and protest with pro-Khalistani members. Investigators sought help from WhatsApp over a group where the document was allegedly discussed.
Jacob and Muluk, who face non-bailable warrants, said they were targets of political vendetta. “Such vendetta is the dark face of authoritarianism and the real tool kit for devastation of not only democracy but also basic human rights,” Muluk’s petition read.
Delhi Police say the document, first publicised by Swedish Nobel laureate Greta Thunberg in support of the farmers’ agitating against three laws, aimed to spread misinformation, incite unrest and was linked to clashes that rocked the Capital on Republic Day.
But the police’s decision to charge Bengaluru-based Ravi, a member of Thunberg’s Fridays For Future movement, with sedition, criminal conspiracy and inciting to riot, stoked allegations of muzzling dissent and procedural lapses.
On Tuesday, police commissioner SN Shrivastava denied any lapses. “Disha Ravi’s arrest has been made in accordance with the law which doesn’t differentiate between a 22-year-old or a 50-year-old,” he said.
Police said their investigation revealed Muluk was in Delhi between January 20 and 27. Investigators focused on a WhatsApp group named “International Farmers Strike” allegedly created on December 6 by Ravi. Police said Jacob joined the group on December 11 while pro-Khalistani group Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF) members joined it the following day.
Muluk was added on December 6 and the trio allegedly attended a virtual meeting by PJF on January 11. The modalities of a “Global Day Action” were allegedly worked out in the meeting attended by 70 people, police said. Police wrote to Zoom and WhatsApp seeking details on the identities of participants and administrators, apart from chats, videos and documents.
“These details will help us ascertain the sequence of events leading to the creation of the Google toolkit documents and the role each participant played in it,” said a senior police officer requesting anonymity.
A second police officer, who did not want to be named, said PJF founder Mo Dhaliwal contacted Ravi, Jacob and Muluk through a Canada-based woman named Puneet.
“Jacob was the first one to be contacted by Puneet in the first week of December and was intimated about the PJF’s ‘bigger plans’ pertaining to the farmers’ agitation. We have reason to believe that after Jacob agreed to be part of the plan, she roped in Muluk and Disha,” the officer said. He added that the first toolkit that Thunberg posted and deleted contained the name of a man identified as Pieter Friedrich, who police claimed was associated with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
The activists rejected the charges. Senior counsel Mihir Desai, representing Jacob, said the toolkit meant to provide digital support for the farmers’ protest. “It does not talk about any violence or about the January 26 incident at the Red Fort,” Desai argued.
Advocate Hiten Venegaonkar, who appeared for Delhi Police’s cyber crime unit, said Jacob was part of a larger group formed to support the protest and added the toolkit was prepared and authored by Jacob and Ravi.
Muluk’s advocate said it would take him time to reach New Delhi and file an application for anticipatory bail. The petition states that he and others were only supporting the dissenters, who are farmers. The plea said the applicant was 34, had done well in his field, had a bright future, and that police action would be destructive for his life and family.
In Delhi, chief metropolitan magistrate Pankaj Sharma allowed seven applications moved by Ravi. The judge allowed her to speak to her mother and family members for 15 minutes over telephone after her counsel told court that five minutes were not enough. The court also permitted Ravi’s counsel to meet her for 30 minutes every day. Besides the FIR, the court also directed the police to provide her copies of the arrest memo and remand documents used to seek her custodial interrogation.
Police action in the case has come under sharp criticism from activists and experts, who argue that Delhi Police violated procedure by not informing Bengaluru police in time, producing Ravi in a local court or providing her with a lawyer. The toolkit first hit the headlines two weeks ago when Thunberg shared it on social media along with a post in support of the agitating farmers. Shortly afterwards, Delhi Police registered an FIR on charges of criminal conspiracy and sedition, but did not name any individual.