The office of a lawyer in Delhi who allegedly tutored people to give false statements in cases linked to the riots over the amended citizenship law in the national capital in February was raided by the Delhi Police on Thursday.
The lawyer, Mehmood Pracha, forged an affidavit signed by another lawyer who died three years ago, the police said. Mr Pracha also instructed people who suffered in the Delhi riots to give false statements, the police said.
"I will not back off. They cannot suppress the rule of law in India so easily," Mr Pracha told NDTV, adding the allegations against him are false.
"The complaint is a false one. The complaint says an affidavit was attested by a fake notary public. It takes some Rs 20-30 to get an affidavit attested. And no lawyer goes to get the affidavit attested. Clients only go, and sometimes clerks also go. Why would a person like me to save Rs 10-15 go to person who's charging Rs 10 instead of Rs 30?" Mr Pracha said.
"And it is the responsibility of the police and the government that people who are sitting as notary public are correct notary public," the lawyer told NDTV.
The police investigation started after a city court asked the police chief to allow the Special Cell of the Crime Branch to look into the allegations against the lawyer. The Special Cell then filed a First Information Report (FIR) and went to the lawyer's office for the search.
Mr Pracha represents several accused in the riots case, including student activist Gulfisha Fatima, who has been charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Several lawyers have condemned the police's move against Mr Pracha as "motivated".
"The raids on Mahmood Pracha Lawyer for the defence in the Delhi riots case is a direct attack on the fundamental right of the right to legal representation, all lawyers must condemn this attack," senior lawyer Indira Jaising tweeted.
The raids on Mahmood Pracha Lawyer for the defence in the Delhi riots case is a direct attack on the fundamental right of the right to legal representation , all lawyers must condemn this attack— Indira Jaising (@IJaising) December 24, 2020
Another lawyer, Karuna Nundy, tweeted, "By seizing Adv Mehmood Pracha's computers for particular emails, police will get a lot of data that's protected by attorney client privilege. This goes to the heart of rule of law. Lawyers must stand up for Adv Pracha as much as for Adv P. Bhushan."
"There appears to be a serious attack on the right to representation but also the right to attorney-client privilege. If they have his hard disk, they not only have his particular emails, they also have all sorts of documents from other clients. You see, what has happened here is very serious," Ms Nundy told NDTV.
In February, just a month before the lockdown over the pandemic started, communal violence over the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) had erupted in Delhi between groups supporting and opposing the law that promised citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from three neighbouring countries, widely seen as discriminatory. The government maintains the CAA doesn't discriminate against anyone.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi held meetings with US President Donald Trump just a few kilometres away, parts of the city descended into violence that saw widespread clashes, arson and stone-throwing leaving 53 dead, at least 200 injured and hundreds homeless.
In September, 15 people, all linked to the protests against the CAA and none from the campaign in its favour, were named by the police in a vast chargesheet filed over the riots.