The Hindu: Justice Done and letters
- The Hindu, October 31, 2003.
Opinion - Editorials
ALL IN ALL, the Delhi High Court's verdict in the high-profile Parliament
attack case will be remembered less for whom it convicted and more for whom
it acquitted. In acquitting S.A.R. Geelani, a Delhi college lecturer, and
Afsan Guru, wife of one of the accused, the two-member Bench has overturned
the controversial and ill-reasoned judgment of the designated POTA court,
one that was widely regarded as having made a string of presumptions in
favour of the prosecution that had absolutely no basis in law. The case
against Mr. Geelani who was convicted and sentenced to death by the
Additional Sessions Judge, S.N. Dhingra was ludicrously weak. The lecturer
in Arabic was said to have been in contact with the co-accused, Mohammed
Afzal and Shaukat Hussain Guru, a fact of no significance by itself and one
that Mr. Geelani freely admitted. The prosecution also made much of an
intercepted telephone conversation between Mr. Geelani and his brother,
which was interpreted in an extremely fanciful manner to suggest that the
former was involved in the attack on Parliament House. While holding, and
quite correctly, that such flimsy evidence cannot be used to draw inferences
against Mr. Geelani, the Delhi High Court has drawn attention to the total
lack of evidence against the lecturer in critical areas. For instance, there
was no evidence that Mr. Geelani was in touch with any of the five
terrorists who were slain in the attack. Moreover, there was absolutely
nothing on record to suggest he had a role in arranging hideouts and
procuring either arms or explosives used in the conspiracy.
While the designated POTA court had absolved Afsan Guru of being a part of
the conspiracy, it found her guilty of failing to report it despite having
prior knowledge. The Delhi High Court, however, found that there was
insufficient evidence even to draw an imputation that she was aware of the
conspiracy, thus raising more questions about the disturbing manner in which
the prosecution went about its job in its apparent over-enthusiasm in
cracking this high-profile case. If there is a perception that the Delhi
High Court's judgment is a `soft' one, it is mistaken. This is borne out by
its decision to enhance the sentence awarded by the designated court against
Afzal and Shaukat Guru on one count. The High Court sentenced them to death
for the offence committed under Section 121 (waging war against the state)
even though the designated court had only imposed a sentence of life
imprisonment under this Section.
At one level, the Delhi High Court's judgment is a welcome reflection of the
strength of the judicial process, particularly its capacity for
self-correction. It comes at a time when there are serious anxieties about
the increasing abuse of power and disregard for civil liberties in the name
of waging a war against terrorism. At another level, the Court's judgment
has indirectly exposed how, despite the much-touted safeguards in the
Prevention of Terrorism Act, the draconian legislation makes it inordinately
difficult for an innocent man to defend himself. The very fact that Mr.
Geelani could have been convicted and sentenced to death by one court of law
and acquitted on the ground that the evidence "does not even remotely, far
less definitely" point towards his guilt by another reveals the inherent
danger in the anti-terrorism law that dispenses with the safeguards
contained in ordinary criminal procedure. Mr. Geelani's travails lend an
additional dimension to the fatal flaws in POTA, which in its short history
has already demonstrated that it can be used to fix political opponents and
put people behind bars for indefinite periods. Its use in the Parliament
attack case provides another telling reason why POTA should go.
The above link is to the Editorial titled Justice Done.
This one is to the Letters to the editor section...Abrogate POTA.
Sir, The acquittal by the Delhi High Court of the Delhi University
lecturer, S.A.R. Geelani, who was sentenced to death in the Parliament
attack case by a designated POTA court, further underlines how justified
your editorial was in issuing a call to `Throw POTA out' ( Oct. 28 ). With
such draconian laws, the dividing line between life and death, for innocent
citizens, has become very thin.
* * *
Sir, Before it was enacted, many people, including the media and political
parties pointed out that in the name of curbing terrorism there was every
possibility of its misuse. As you rightly said, "... the only real safeguard
against the built-in and politically inevitable misuse of POTA is its
Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee,
* * *
Sir, The terrorism situation in the country needs immediate attention and
POTA is the only answer. It should be retained with adequate safeguards
* * *
Sir, The Government should make provisions to punish those found guilty of
misusing the Act and form a mechanism for speedy trial of POTA cases. Mere
amendments without a time-frame for disposal of complaints will not help.
* * *
Sir, No one can disagree with the comments made by the senior lawyer, F.S.
Nariman, on the ordinance to amend POTA. According to him, unless the power
of arrest is taken away from the States, misuse of POTA cannot be prevented.