People’s Tribunal, a forum led by retired Supreme Court Judge Justice V Gopala Gowda to record people’s account of the violence that unfolded in Mangaluru on December 19, 2019, has alleged interference by the police.
The forum, also comprising BT Venkatesh, former State Public Prosecutor, and senior journalist Sugata Srinivasaraj, issued a statement alleging that the police is trying to obstruct it from collecting people’s accounts.
“The very conduct of the proceedings of this Tribunal was sought to be interfered with by the Mangalore Police Administration on multiple occasions with a deliberate intention to see that the truth of the incident shall not be disclosed to the public,” the statement said.
On December 19, two persons who were taking part in protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act were killed and several others were injured after police opened fire on the protesters.
“On 5th January 2019, a notice was addressed to one of the organisers which sought to preclude the tribunal from conducting any hearing on the events of 19th December. It is still unclear on what grounds the notice was issued,” the forum’s statement reads.
“Despite the Organisers’ insistence that the People’s Tribunal was a civil society initiative to create a public forum where grievances could be aired by the aggrieved persons and the public, the police authorities alleged that this process interfered with on-going legal proceedings including a magisterial enquiry,” the release added.
On January 6, the tribunal heard testimonies from victims and their family members, families of the deceased, journalists present at the scene of the violence, and prominent members of the local community. The invitation to depose before the tribunal and share their experiences was extended to not just civil society, but also to officials, especially the police, the forum said.
On January 7, the People’s Tribunal visited some of the victims who are currently receiving medical treatment at Highlands Hospital and Unity Hospital. The tribunal also conducted spot visits at some of the areas that were most severely affected by the violence on December 19.
Earlier, an interim fact-finding report on the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protest and subsequent police firing stated that police action was "excessive, biased and specifically targeted the Muslim community.” That report was compiled by a group of human rights and civil liberty activists from Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi, from various organisations, including the All India People's Forum (AIPF), People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO).
The forum said while they had asked for permission from Mangaluru City Police Commissioner PS Harsha, Govindaraju B, Inspector of Mangalore North Police Station, issued a notice to one of the organisers asking them to refrain from holding any meetings.
They added that in another instance on January 6, the public grievance hearing was halted for over an hour as the venue’s owner expressed his reservations with the nature of the event. He cited the aforementioned notice and stated that he was wary of reprisals from the police and other authorities.
Further, a press conference was scheduled to be held by the People’s Tribunal, but due to alleged pressure from police authorities, a number of hoteliers were unwilling to provide a venue without police permission.