NEW DELHI: The Gujarat Police’s move to arrest Teesta Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand is not just about “the harassment and victimization” of activists fighting for justice in the Gujarat carnage cases. It’s a warning to all about “the consequences of speaking up”. This was the consensus at a meeting organized by the Press Club of India on Monday to express solidarity with Setalvad and Anand, both of whom are activists as well as journalists.

While their arrest has been stayed by the Supreme Court till the next hearing of their anticipatory bail plea on February 19, the speakers at the meeting questioned the Gujarat Police’s insistence on “custodial interrogation”.

Senior advocate Indira Jaising contended there was no need for custodial interrogation as “the primary evidence” in the case involving allegations of cheating and breach of trust was “documentary”. The question of whether the couple had embezzled any of the funds collected for building a museum at one of the sites of the Gujarat violence, Gulberg Society in Ahmedabad, according to Jaising, depended entirely on the interpretation of books of accounts, credit card bills and other such documented transactions. “Setalvad was therefore entitled to ask for questions in writing,” Jaising said, making light of the allegation that she was not cooperating with the probe.

The circumstances in which the case had been booked also came in for criticism. Since their earlier attempts to “frame” Setalvad in the Best Bakery and illegal exhumation cases had been rebuffed by the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2012, the Gujarat Police, Jaising alleged, filed the embezzlement case in February 2014 after the SIT report exonerating Narendra Modi had been endorsed by a magistrate in Ahmedabad. Whatever the motives behind the case booked in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Setalvad and Anand were opposing not the investigation but the demand for custodial interrogation.

Press Club presidentAnand Sahay raised concerns about the manner in which sections of the media were “distorting” the facts involved.

Locating the case in the context of the growing threats to free speech, veteran journalist cum activist John Dayal said, “The only reason the Gujarat Police were trying to arrest Teesta Setalvad is to humiliate and crush the spirit of everyone of us who dares to probe the legal system, question state-sponsored violence and speak for victims.” The editor of a Hindi daily, Om Thanvi, found it “suspicious” that the Gujarat Police landed up at Setalvad’s residence in Mumbai within minutes of the Gujarat high court’s rejection of her anticipatory bail plea.