Sonu Mansuri was accused of impersonating a lawyer and sharing information about cases with PFI. Family says lawyers threatened to not argue for bail.
The lawyers involved and ‘lawlessness’ in court
The lawyer quoted above alleged that the attack on Sonu was linked to anger among lawyers affiliated to Hindutva groups over the case against Bajrang Dal leader Tanu Sharma. Sharma was among four persons who were arrested for allegedly objectionable remarks against Prophet Mohammad during a protest against Pathaan on January 25 in Indore.
As their bail petition came up for hearing on January 27 and January 28, it was Supreme Court lawyer Ehtesham Hashmi who appeared to oppose the application on behalf of the complainant, Mufti Sabir Ali. Hashmi had last year secured bail for a bangle seller who was thrashed by Hindutva activists for allegedly hiding his Muslim identity. That case had courted controversy with even Madhya Pradesh home minister Narottam Mishra alleging that the man had Pakistan links on social media.
Sharma, meanwhile, was being represented by a battery of lawyers, including Anil Naidu, Surendra Singh Alawa, Govind Singh Bais, Shubham Solanki and Amit Pande, among others. Most of them are affiliated to the RSS.
“Hashmi was not in their good books as last year he secured bail for the Muslim bangle seller…they often used to say within their circles that Hashmi is a PFI agent...the next day, on January 28, around 300 lawyers gathered inside the court to lead an attack on Hashmi. They wanted to set an example so that no lawyer would dare to fight such cases…Sharma got bail…Hashmi stepped out under police protection. That intern also stepped out at the same time and this was observed by Sharma’s lawyers. They thought she was linked to Hashmi. While Hashmi stepped out of court, that intern was caught by the lawyers…after making a video, they circulated it in WhatsApp groups to shame her…police blindly trusted them and arrested her without any inquiry,” said a lawyer who did not wish to be named.
The FIR claims that Sonu admitted that she monitors the proceedings of all cases linked to communal incidents and shares the details with Noor Jahan Khan, PFI and the Peace Party. It claims that she has also agreed that she was video-recording the proceedings on the instructions of her senior to help Hashmi.
Naidu said, “This girl was seen with Hashmi who often fights controversial cases in the courtroom and was making a video of the entire proceeding. She was running around Hashmi so we thought of her as his junior. It was a sensitive case and she was recording that’s why we filed the FIR.”
He said that “we took her to the bar office and interrogated her”. “She admitted that she had been given money by Noor Jahan to shoot the video of the proceedings to pass it on to PFI. This was not her first case of recording; she has been videographing all cases related to Hindu-Muslims.”
Asked why he or his team members didn’t inform the judge, Naidu said, “We filed the FIR and later approached the additional district to take action over contempt of court…so that no junior should repeat the same mistake again.”
Hashmi, meanwhile, told Newslaundry that he was threatened inside the court on January 27 “but I didn’t give much importance to threats and continued with the argument”. “Next day, the court was packed with lawyers who had come in support of Tanu Sharma. Despite repeated orders of the judge to leave the court, they didn’t step out. I was alerted in advance by my sources that I might be attacked and had requested for police security. Police escorted me outside the court…I am thankful to Indore police.”
Notably, after the hearing on January 27, Mustafa Badshah, one of the associates of the complainant in the case against Tanu Sharma, was also allegedly assaulted by the lawyers on court premises. “They were not lawyers but goons in black coats…somehow I managed to run and almost held a policeman and requested him to save me. Two more police personnel came and escorted me out of court.”
Hashmi also sent a defamation notice to Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar. “They ran a totally fake story by indirect reference to me. How can they run news without verifying it? It was not possible for her to capture videos of the proceedings, and there is nothing secret in open court. They have targeted her because she is a Muslim. If they spotted her recording in court, then they should have informed the judge about it immediately. But instead they heckled her, dragged her to the bar office, where she was harassed and searched publicly. Who gave them the authority to act in such a way?”
Noor Jahan said, “This whole story of Sonu recording the proceedings and passing it on to PFI or to anyone else is totally fake. They even accused her of taking money for passing on information, which is a lie…I instructed Sonu to take money from one of my clients to complete legal formalities as I was not able to come to court that day. I even have evidence to prove it. In order to target me, they targeted my intern.”
“Everybody knew that Sonu was a Muslim and worked under Noor Jahan. She was targeted just because of her identity. Without verifying, news organisations reported her as a PFI agent. We want the police to investigate the matter seriously because till now everything has happened with biases,” said Srivastav.
Dr AK Chauhan, principal of the Government Law College in Dewas, said Sonu is “a good student”. “We don’t know much about the case and its authenticity, but as a student we don’t have any problem with her.”
Update at 2.53 pm, Feb 9: Hashmi died after a cardiac arrest in Delhi on Thursday morning.
Update at 1.46 pm, March 22: Sonu was granted bail on March 22 by the Supreme Court. Her petition, filed by lawyer Amit Srivastav, was argued by senior advocate Dushyant Dave.