Delhi riots ‘fact-finding’ report accepted by Amit Shah replete with false, unsubstantiated claims

On May 29, Home Minister Amit Shah accepted a fact-finding report on Delhi riots by Delhi-based NGO Call for Justice. Several media outlets reported about this including Times Now and The Print. The fact-finding committee was chaired by Justice Ambadas Joshi (retired judge, Bombay High Court) and included the following members — ML Meena (IAS retd.); VivekDubey (IPS retd.); Dr TD Dogra (former director AIIMS); Neera Mishra (social entrepreneur); Neeraj Aarora (advocate).

Alt News has reviewed the report and found that it cannot be categorised as a ‘fact-finding’ report because of the torrent of misinformation it carries. These can be categorised as:
1) Misinformation already fact-checked
2) Misleading sequence of events
3) One-sided fact-finding
4) Sourcing dubious website for information

VERIFICATION

1) MISINFORMATION ALREADY FACT-CHECKED

Claim: Despite aggressive lobbying by the anti-CAA protestors the international community did not extend social, moral or political support
Fact-check: Anti-CAA protest wasn’t limited just to India

The first paragraph of chapter one in the report stated, “Despite aggressive lobbying by the anti-CAA protestors, the international community also did not extend social, moral or political support.”

However, this claim is baseless because anti-CAA protests took place in multiple counties beyond the Indian subcontinent, as reported by major media outlets — NDTV, The Hindu and Deccan Herald.

Source: Scroll

On February 6, Alt News published a media analysis report that documented the multiple anti-CAA protests that took place in other countries. The report is an analysis on news agency ANI’s biased coverage that focused primarily on pro-CAA rallies abroad despite significantly larger anti-CAA protests.

Claim: Video clip presented as proof of anti-CAA protesters getting paid for protesting
Fact-check: Video clip shows an individual’s act of charity towards the Delhi riots victims

On page 21, under chapter 5 ‘Enquiry done by the committee’, the report included a testimony that stated, “Amount of Rs. 500 per shift was given to the females and Rs. 700-800 per shift was given to the males for their participation in the protest. The said [anti-CAA] protest was happening from the last one and half months in two shifts of 8 hours each.” For validation, the report included a screenshot of a tweet by Pakistani-Canadian columnist Tarek Fatah.

On March 2, Alt News Fact Check found that the person in the viral video is actually giving cash to victims of the Delhi riots. Additionally, Alt News has documented multiple instances of misinformation put out by Fatah on Twitter.

Claim: Amanatullah Khan was spotted leading the riots in Jamia Nagar
Fact-check: Amanatullah Khan was at Shaheen Bagh at the time of riots

One of the points under Chapter 5 ‘Timeline of activities’ claimed, “On 15.12.2019, AAP MLA and Delhi Sunni Waqf Board chairman Amanatullah Khan was spotted leading the riots in Jamia Nagar. Buses were set on fire and chants of Hinduon se Azadi‘ were raised in that area.”
On December 19, after speaking with multiple witnesses, Alt News Fact Check found that Amanatullah Khan was present at Shaheen Bagh from approximately 2 pm to 6 pm. There are no reports of buses being torched in Shaheen Bagh by the media.

Claim: Activist Harsh Mander instigated violence in his speech delivered at Jamia Millia Islamia
Fact-check: Clipped video of Mander shared with false and misleading claim

A section under Chapter 6 ‘Related and Incidental Issues’ alleged that social activist Harsh Mander said, “I do not have faith in the apex court and that it did not safeguard humanity, secularism and equality in the cases related to National Register of Citizens (NRC), Ayodhya Verdict and Kashmir…‘ultimate justice’ could only be done on the streets.”

On March 4, Alt News Fact Check reported that a clipped video of Harsh Mander was shared on social media which claimed that he instigated violence during Jamia speech. The clipped video was presented by members of the BJP and amplified by certain media outlets to portray that Mander’s reference to “coming out in the streets” promoted violence. Contrary to claims, the social activist said that people need to come out to protect the soul of the Constitution, which was founded on the ideals of love. This claim was also fact-checked by The Quint and BOOM.

It is pertinent to note that the quote attributed to Mander in the report is misleading. The transcript of Mander’s speech is mentioned in the fact-check by Alt News.

CLAIM: Umar Khalid called for riots ahead of Donald Trump’s visit
FACT: Clipped video of Khalid’s speech presented with misleading claims 

On four instances (page 3, 9, 13 and 43), the report claimed that activist Umar Khalid’s speech on February 17 shows that he called for riots during President Trump’s visit. On page 3 the report stated, Umar Khalid “explicitly mentioned that the riots would take place during the visit of the US President.” Out of the four instances, only page 3 and 48 have a valid attribution in the footnotes — OpIndia (archive link) and The Republic respectively.

Khalid gave the speech in question at Amravati, Maharashtra on February 17. The Wire reported that a 40-second clipped video of the address was widely circulated on social media.

However, the claim that Khalid called for riots in his speech is false. In the first few minutes, he said, “Right now, when IPS Abdur Rehman (the person who introduced Khalid prior to his speech) was speaking, he spoke about Gandhi and told us that the weapons that Mahatma Gandhi has given us to fight are Ahimsa and Satyagrah.”

Later he said, “We won’t respond to violence with violence. We won’t respond to hate with hate. If they spread hate, we will respond to it with love. If they thrash us with lathis, we keep holding the tricolour. If they fire bullets, then we will hold the Constitution. If they jail us, we will go to jail singing, Saare Jahaan Se Acha Hindustan Hamara.” The same was reported by The Quint. The complete English transcript of Khalid’s speech is available online.

2) MISLEADING SEQUENCE OF EVENTS

7000 people gathered at Idgah a day prior to the riots

On five occasions (page 3, 10, 11, 30 and 60) the report has stated that a day prior (February 23) to the Delhi riots 7000 people, aged between 15-35 years, trained in disruptive activities gathered at Idgah. The report doesn’t disclose the religious identity of the 7000 people at Shahi Idgah Mosque, Sardar Bazaar. However, the statement that follows after this claim on page 3 under the executive summary makes it clear that the report is implying that these 7000 people are from the Muslim community.


The report includes a quote from a fruit vendor who told that 7000 people would be coming for “the final war.”

Alt News performed a keyword search on Google and on Twitter with ‘7000 And (Idgah OR ईदगाह),’ and didn’t find a single report by mainstream media on the same. If 7000 people “trained in disruptive activities” had gathered at Idgah, it would have made the headlines. We also spoke with the concerned station house office (SHO) at the relevant police station. They denied that such an event occurred. 

The fact the report mentions 7000 people gathered at a mosque to “wage war” on February 23, without any credible source, shows that the report wants to establish that Delhi riots were started by the Muslim community.

Meer Faisal’s post 

On page 41, under section 8.1 ‘Timely execution of the attack,’ the report has attached a screenshot of a Facebook post by Meer Faisal, freelance correspondent of Jamia Times. The report claims he was inciting the public at large to block the road. It is pertinent to note that the text written by Faisal is not clear in the screenshot.

As per Lexico, incite means “encourage or stir up (violent or unlawful behaviour), urge or persuade (someone) to act in a violent or unlawful way.”

Alt News spoke with 19-year old Faisal who currently interns at Maktoob Media. He clarified that prior to Maktoob Media he worked as an editor at Facebook page Jamia News and not Jamia Times. He added, “The Facebook post attached in the fact-finding report has been made private by me because I had used swear words.” The screenshot below shows the post included in the report. According to him, this image shows people celebrating with confetti and foam spray after a road towards Shaheen Bagh was unblocked on February 22. The Hindu and The New Indian Express also reported on the said incident.

The English translation of Faisal’s post reads, “Are we stupid for having spent so much time on the protests? On one hand, you say that the police have blocked the road. But on the other hand, you unblock the road. People are celebrating. [Now] because of five to six news anchors [the news] is — Shaheen Bagh lost… get lost! Mood down, no more videos [referring to his ground reports]. Are we stupid for not sleeping last night? PS: There’s hope that Sarita Vihar road [to Shaheen Bagh] might also be unblocked.”

ANI posted a video of the celebrations captured in Faisal’s video that same day.

Since Faisal made the post in the report private, we are going to rely on other posts shared by Faisal to authenticate the location. He had uploaded a video on Facebook that shows the scenes after celebrations. This is also spotted in ANI’s video. Alt News has compared the screenshots from Faisal’s video and ANI’s video to authenticate that both videos were shot at the same location.

This is not the first time Faisal’s social activity has been used to spread misinformation. On February 22, OpIndia claimed that Faisal made a graffiti of Sharjeel Imam. “I don’t know how to make such artwork. I can confirm that I haven’t made it. However, the image used in OpIndia article was clicked by me for Jamia News,” he informed.

3) ONE-SIDED FACT-FINDING

The following points make it evident that the report is an attempt to build a hostile opinion about anti-CAA protests and protestors:

Omitting data on the death toll
Executive Summary paragraph 10 states, “The violence ended up taking lives of 53 people including one IB official and two Delhi Police personals, injured more than 200 people.” However, it conveniently fails to mention that three-fourth of the casualties was from the minority community.  The Polis Project report stated that out of 52 victims, 39 were from the Muslim Community as compared to 13 from the Hindu community.

Overwhelming majority of testimonies from the Hindu community 
The report’s chapter 5 recorded the testimonies of victims and eye-witnesses of the Delhi riots. Out of 27 statements, 21 statements listed in this section are from the Hindu community. Despite more people from Muslim community succumbing due to communal riots, as highlighted above, the fact-finding report relies on testimonies from one community.

Scanty mention of hate speech by the pro-CAA group
Under section 8.2 and 8.3, the report has made a timeline using social media posts, of events on February 22 and 23. An overwhelming majority of these posts are about the anti-CAA protests. However, the “fact-finding” report has not included social media posts which capture blatant hate speech by the pro-CAA group a few hours prior to the communal riots.

On February 23, News18’s Saahil Murli Menghani reported, “Desh ke gaddaro ko goli maaro ___ ko’ slogan still being raised in front of the Police in Maujpur. It’s less than a Kilometer away from where anti CAA women are sitting in Jafrabad to support @BhimArmyChief.” On the same night, Menghani also reported, “Goli maaro ___ ko” & “Hindustan mein rehna hoga toh jai shri ram kehna hoga” SLOGANS being raised in front of the cops here where stone-pelting happened.

Burning of Muslim place of worship near the petrol pump set ablaze not mentioned in the report
The report has stated twice (page 20 and 48) that, “The Petrol Pump located at the B-2 Block was the first property which was attacked and burnt by the rioters by putting the petrol and diesel on fire on 24.02.2020, at around 1 pm.”

Alt News performed a reverse image search and found that the images were used by India Today (top) and The Wire (bottom). As per the reports, images of the petrol pump are from Bhajanpura and Chand Bagh respectively. In order to authenticate that the two images show the same petrol pump, we spoke with Kaushal Shroff, a journalist at The Caravan, who did a ground report on February 23. According to him, the two images are of the same petrol pump that is located on the Wazirabad Road between Chand Bagh and Bhajanpura.

As per The Caravan, a photojournalist said that the petrol pump was burnt by a “Hindu right-wing mob”.

Alt News spoke with the photojournalist who said, “The anti-CAA protestors were present at the end of the women’s sit-in protest site (tent). After the police action in the morning as told by protestors present, they moved towards the main road. Soon, the Delhi Police used tear gas to disperse them and also lathi-charged the protesters. Around 1 pm, a large number of people gathered at the site. Half were from Chand Bagh (predominantly Muslim area) and other half were from Bhajanpura side (predominantly Hindu area) who joined the Delhi police. This is when the stone-pelting and arson started. I observed the riots from a vantage point until 6 pm. Until that time, the anti-CAA mob wasn’t able to approach close to the petrol pump due to the brute force from the pro-CAA mob from Bhajanpura. I saw the petrol pump and vehicles set ablaze. As per my observation, it appeared that the protestors were, by and large, defending the waves of attack from Bhajanpura side.” According to the photojournalist, the conflict zone’s epicentre gradually kept shifting towards the right (shown below).

As per a ground report for The Caravan by Kaushal Shroff, a mazar was burnt in the Chand Bagh area close to the petrol pump. After inputs from Shroff, Alt News pinned the mazar and the petrol pump on the map. It is pertinent to note that the mazar is located a few steps away from a police booth.

The Wire also reported the same. Alt News compared the image of burnt mazar in the report by The Wire (left) and the image of the mazar available on Google maps and found a match. A detailed timeline of the Delhi riots has been documented by The Wire.

Despite mentioning that the petrol pump was burnt, the fact-finding committee didn’t deem it important to mention that a mob burnt a mazar in the same locality.

4) SOURCING DUBIOUS WEBSITE FOR INFORMATION

The “fact-finding” report has cited OpIndia, a website that has repeatedly shared misinformation, at least 10 times in the report. Alt News has found multiple instances when OpIndia was guilty of spreading misinformation since 2017.

Last year in March, The Economic Times (ET) reported that OpIndia’s application at International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) was rejected due to bias in their reportage. OpIndia’s application was evaluated by IFCN assessor Kanchan Kaur, who is also dean at Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM), Bengaluru. Speaking to ET, Kaur said, “Though the applicant has not officially endorsed any political group, and has stated a non-partisanship policy, a quick look at the website indicates otherwise.”

On May 20, Poynter Institute, the parent company of IFCN, published a blog that includes the evaluation of OpIndia’s IFCN application.

CONCLUSION

Delhi-based NGO Call for Justice’s report on communal riots in the capital was submitted to Home Minister Amit Shah at this residence. The report that claims to be a fact-finding report has five accounts of misinformation that was fact-checked by independent media organisations. It heavily relies on OpIndia, a website that has repeatedly shared misinformation. Several sections in the report, particularly the witness testimonies, indicate that the committee relied on inputs from just one community in its efforts to build a narrative that the Muslim community was responsible for the communal riots.

Update: One of the members of the fact-finding committee sent a rejoinder to our article. We are reproducing it in full below. Alt News stands by its report.

“A team of professionals headed by the Retired High Court Judge of Mumbai High Court has conducted the inquiry of Delhi Riots on behalf of the NGO ‘Call for Justice’ with an approach to bring the factual information to the public and stakeholders. Alt News questions the committee report on selective and convenient issues and refrains from commenting on unsuitable aspects of the report as the media reports of the investigation has already corroborated broadly the finding of the committee to a larger extent. The committee would like to remark that the self- proclaimed fact checking website ignores the entirety of the report and focuses on isolated parts, suitable to their own narrative. For example, the website goes on to give a clean chit to transgressors like Amanatullah Khan on one aspect, and very carefully ignores other videos in which Khan can be seen misleading and inciting people, instances which are more or less indefensible. Another instance is where Alt News quotes the person seen distributing money to women in a video, saying that he was distributing money to the riot affected families but intentionally and conveniently overlooked the fact that this averment is also corroborated from the testimony of another witness and inference has been drawn taking into account totality of the facts and not from any one particular evidence. Further, the involvement of  Umar Khalid has already been established by Delhi Police in the charge sheet filed against Tahir Hussain wherein, it was observed that Tahir Hussain was in contact with Umar Khalid who was part of a larger group of person involved in inciting riots in Delhi. Another example is the claim that the entire report presents a misleading sequence of events despite the fact that the authenticity of entire timeline of activities has been corroborated from the media reports and other evidences referred therein in the report itself. The website claims that the finding of the report that 7000 people had gathered from outside for riots, is misleading without appreciating the fact that it was based on the testimony of the witness. Further, the allegation of sourcing dubious website for information is mischievous as the committee has toiled hard to disclose the sources of information to substantiate its findings and refer to the more than 100 footnotes, which are either the links to news reports or the details of any video / photo/ other source. Alt News challenge only 10 which belong to OpIndia and suppressed the fact that the report also puts out its source of information on India Today, The Scroll, National Herald, The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Print, The Wire, Outlook, NDTV, and many other media houses which play a huge role in the Indian political discourse. The allegations of one sided fact-finding are false as apart from the testimonies, the committee have taken into consideration the images, videos, media reports and other content from the public domain. As far as the few testimonies from the other community, there are two reasons for this, firstly, the committee visited the riot affected areas on 29 th February, 2020 & 1 st March, 2020 and a few person from the other community volunteered to testify before the committee and in some areas, there were safety issues and the police stopped the committee from visiting those areas. Imagine the police fearing for safety! It is no secret that even journalists were targeted when they attempted to cover the initial barrage of attacks on the Hindu community. And lastly, all the issues challenging the fact finding report are so trivial in nature and do not impinge on the fabric of the report in any manner and instead fortify the outcome of the report of committee. Thus the present criticism of the report is unwarranted and have been done by adopting a ‘between the lines approach’ and based on trivial issues in isolation without appreciating the fact that these findings are supported and backed by many corroborative evidences at every instance and subsequently by the police investigation also as such, the criticiser are just making a fuss out of nowhere. The report have maintained neutrality in its finding and nowhere has given the communal colour and in-fact accusation was against the anti-national, extremist and radical groups behind the riots. It is expected from the editor / author of the article to publish our reply as it is and maintained the ethics of journalism.”

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