Seize phones of Whatsapp group members allegedly involved in JNU attack: Delhi HC

Seize phones of Whatsapp group members allegedly involved in JNU attack: Delhi HC
Delhi HC asked WhatsApp and Google to preserve and provide information, as per their internal policies, to the police in relation to the recent violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Photo: Website/Delhi High Court

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the police to "at the earliest" summon witnesses and seize the phones of members of two WhatsApp chat groups on which the January 5 violence was allegedly coordinated.

Justice Brijesh Sethi asked WhatsApp and Google to preserve and provide information, as per their internal policies, to the police in relation to the recent violence at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

Directions were also issued to the JNU administration and the State Bank of India branch inside the campus to preserve and provide at the earliest the CCTV footage of the violence as already requested by the police.

With the directions, the court disposed of a plea filed by JNU professors Ameet Parameswaran, Atul Sood and Shukla Vinayak Sawant seeking directions to the Delhi government and police that data, CCTV footage and other evidence relating to the January 5 violence on the varsity campus be preserved.

In the arguments prior to passing of the order, Google told the court that if the police provides it with the user information, including email IDs, of the members of the two WhatsApp groups -- 'Unity Against Left' and 'Friends of RSS' -- then it can find out whether the chat histories are backed up on Google Drive and if yes, the same can be preserved and provided to the investigating agency.

It also told the court that it "will protect whatever is there on our system as on date".

On the other hand, WhatsApp told the court that once a chat is delivered to a person, it is no longer stored on its servers due to the 'end-to-end encryption' provided on its app.

It claimed the chats would only be available on the recipient and sender's phones.

The lawyers for the petitioners contended that WhatsApp had in another matter told the Madras High Court that IP addresses of the users can be provided by it and sought that it be directed to provide IP addresses of the two groups users to the police.

To this, WhatsApp said it can only provide the last known IP address of a user account.

Delhi Police, thereafter, told the court that it has already sent requests on January 10 and January 11 to WhatsApp to provide information and data regarding the users of the two groups on emergent basis and it was yet to receive a reply.

It also told the court that it had sent requests to the JNU administration and the SBI branch on the campus to preserve and provide their respective CCTV cameras' footage, but no response has been received from them either.

Police further told the court that it has identified 37 persons who were part of the two groups, and notices have been sent to them to appear before it, but no phones have been seized till date.

Taking note of the submissions, the court issued the various directions to WhatsApp, Google, JNU administration and the police and disposed of the petition filed through advocates Abhik Chimni, Maanav Kumar and Roshni Naamboodiry.

On January 5, a mob of masked men stormed the campus and targeted students in three hostels, unleashing mayhem with sticks, stones and iron rods by hitting inmates and breaking windows, furniture and personal belongings.

Three FIRs have been registered at Vasant Kunj (north) police station in the incident.

Delhi Police questions two suspects

The Delhi Police's Crime Branch on Tuesday questioned two more suspects in connection with the January 5 violence on campus, officials said.

Sucheta Talukdar and Priya Ranjan were questioned in connection with the attack by a masked mob on January 5, they said.

Talukdar said, "I gave one-and-a-half page statement to the police. They asked me about the January 5 incident, where I was that day, details of students injured and whether I could identify anyone else. I was shown my photo (one that the police had released in the press conference last week)."

Sources said she told police that the photo was too blurred.

Besides them, the Crime Branch will also be questioning some of the people who were injured in the attack, the officials said.

Those who made calls to the police control rooms on the day of the violence will also be questioned, they added.

Thirty-four people, including students and faculty, were injured on January 5 when a masked mob entered the campus and attacked them with rods and sledgehammers.

Crime branch officers had on Monday questioned three students, including JNU Students' Union president Aishe Ghosh.

Ghosh, Talukdar, Ranjan, Dolan Samanta, Vhaskar Vijay Mech, Chunchun Kumar (a JNU alumnus) and Pankaj Mishra have been named as suspects.

The officials said a Forensic Science Laboratory team (Cyber) will also be visiting the campus to collect evidence.

(With inputs from PTI.)

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