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Accused without any evidence

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  • mohammad imran
    Accused without any evidence Vidya Subrahmaniam Thanks to a Sessions Court judgment and a searing Minorities Commission report, we now know how young, innocent
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 16, 2011
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      Accused without any evidence



      Vidya Subrahmaniam



      Thanks to a Sessions Court judgment and a searing Minorities
      Commission report, we now know how young, innocent Muslim boys became
      accused in the Mecca Masjid terror case.





      A lot has changed in the nearly four years since the peace of
      Hyderabad was shattered — first by the May 2007 Mecca Masjid blasts
      and, three months later, by the twin blasts at the Gokul Chat Bhandar
      and Lumbini Park.

      Some 20 Muslim boys who were picked up randomly in the aftermath of
      the blasts and charged with waging war on the nation, have won their
      freedom. A new term, Hindutva terror, has gained official recognition.
      The Andhra Pradesh police who, by instinct, habit and training, chased
      after Muslim “masterminds” and connected the dots between Muslim
      terror groups, have learnt the hard way that terror does not always
      have to have the “jihadi” prefix. Indeed, fresh trails have opened up,
      suggesting that the Muslim boys were deliberately framed.

      And yet, these are at best cosmetic changes that have brought no
      tangible relief to those falsely implicated in the blast cases. For
      many of them, the feeling of living on the edge continues; the court
      may have acquitted them but the label of “terrorist” remains as does
      the lurking fear that the reprieve is temporary, that the cycle of
      police visits, interrogation, torture and incarceration can re-
      commence anytime — if there is a fresh terror attack or even if there
      isn't.

      For Mohammad Rayeezuddin, who smartly chatted up customers at
      Hyderabad's grandest jewellery showroom before being picked up and
      tossed into jail, the experience was a life-altering one. Two facts
      went against him: he was witness to a shoot-out outside the office of
      the Director-General of Police in 2004 and he lived in the same
      locality as Shahid Bilal, a key terror suspect.

      The dragnet began to close in on Mr. Rayeezuddin, now 28, after the
      Mecca Masjid blasts. First came the summons from the Special
      Investigation Cell, which put him through the wringer on Bilal's
      whereabouts, network and his specific role in the Mecca Masjid blasts.
      With the Gokul-Lumbini twin blasts, Mr. Rayeezuddin made the
      transition from “terror suspect” to “terror accused,” going through
      the inescapable drill of being blindfolded, shunted between shadowy
      farmhouses and tortured, before being formally arrested and fleetingly
      produced before a magistrate. Mr. Rayeezuddin was picked up on August
      31, 2007 but typically in the police records, the arrest date is shown
      as September 6, 2007. He was released on conditional bail on February
      14, 2008. And on December 31, 2009, the Court of the VII Additional
      Metropolitan Sessions Judge cleared him and 20 others of all charges.
      But the freedom has been only in a manner of speaking, because, as Mr.
      Rayeezuddin says, “ hum utthe baitthe dar me rahte hain” (I live in
      constant fear of the police). The men in uniform turn up often to give
      him company, when it is the anniversary of the Babri Masjid
      demolition, when a terror alert has been sounded, or when there is
      trouble anywhere in the city.

      Scarred for life

      Mr. Rayeezuddin lost his job the day he visited the special cell.
      Today, scarred for life and stigmatised for having once been charged
      with terror, he sells watermelons on the pavement. Others acquitted
      along with him feel similarly wrecked: the torture marks have faded
      but the memories have not. To compound the injury, there has been much
      promise but no action on compensating and rehabilitating the young
      men. Chief Minister Kiran Reddy and others in the Congress have
      offered to apologise for the injustice, which seems so much a mockery
      when the perpetrators of the injustice have not been prosecuted and
      punished. Says Mr. Rayeezuddin: “Please tell the Chief Minister that
      we have forgiven him. Now will he please punish those policemen who so
      brutally and calculatedly turned us into terrorists?”

      The plight of the boys was formally recorded in an interim report as
      early as September 2007 by L. Ravi Chander, Advocate Commissioner for
      the Andhra Pradesh Minorities Commission. Mr. Ravi Chander, who
      visited the blast suspects in the Cherlapally jail, was left so
      shattered by the experience that he began his final report, submitted
      in September 2008, with a poignant quote from Vikas Swarup's debut
      novel, Q&A, made later into Slumdog Millionaire. In the story, the
      teenage protagonist is picked up from the Dharavi slums for winning a
      quiz show. But arrests are an everyday affair in Dharavi, and so the
      boy concludes that even if he had “kicked and screamed, protested his
      innocence, and raised a stink,” the neighbourhood would not have
      lifted a finger to defend him.

      “Unfortunately, sometimes life imitates fiction,” Mr. Ravi Chander
      noted in his report, going on to detail the shocking lack of procedure
      in the detention of Mr. Rayeezuddin and others: “[The boys] reiterate
      with telling consistency the now familiar story of arrest without
      warrant, arrest without informing the kith and kin, being taken away
      to unknown places, torture, etc … Typically a pigment on skin
      reflecting minor electric shocks are visible. While time heals the
      physical wounds, [they have] left an indelible impression on the
      psyche of the persons.” It was like a macabre replay as each boy spoke
      — of being detained without knowing the charge, of extended periods of
      torture, of indifferent magistrates who somehow always missed the
      distress signals from the prisoners, of being forced to confess to
      terror plots and of having to sign on blank papers.

      Mr. Ravi Chander's report reiterated the procedure laid down by the
      Supreme Court for arrest and detention, including maintaining records
      of the time and date of arrests along with the names of officers
      executing the warrants; preparing a memo of arrest, signed by a
      witness preferably from the detainee's family and countersigned by the
      detainee; ensuring a tri-weekly medical examination of every detainee
      and keeping a memo of major and minor injuries, again countersigned by
      the detainee. The Supreme Court held failure to comply with the
      requirements to be punishable with departmental action and contempt of
      court proceedings. Mr. Ravi Chander concluded his report with this
      chilling passage: “To counter terrorism and “counter terrorism” [by
      the State] are not one and the same … It is clear that all the victims
      belong to a single community and mostly to a single economic class.
      This may be insufficient to place the burden surely at a single door-
      step, namely the police. This however surely tells a pattern. A
      seriously dangerous pattern.”

      Mr. Ravi Chander's findings came as a surprise to civil rights
      activists. Because, as he himself laughingly told The Hindu, “I am not
      viewed as a Muslim-friendly person, as I had fought on the opposite
      side on the issue of Minorities reservation.” But this fact has only
      enhanced the credibility of the report.

      Stunning exposé

      If Mr. Ravi Chander underscored the arbitrariness of police
      detentions, the court proceedings turned out to be a stunning exposé
      on the state of Indian policing and the investigation-prosecution
      apparatus. The burden of the two charge sheets filed by the police was
      that Shahid Bilal (listed as Area Commander of Jaish-e-Mohammed/HuJI,
      and believed to have been killed since) and his associates conspired
      to wage war on the nation by organising bomb blasts in Hyderabad. In
      this they were helped by many others, including Mr. Rayeezuddin. And
      yet, astonishingly, neither charge sheet linked the accused
      specifically to any of the three bomb blasts. While the first was
      filed against Bilal and his associates, the second named two other key
      actors, Abdul Sattar and Abdul Khadri. Having learnt bomb-making in
      Bangladesh, Sattar and Khadri helped Bilal with the logistics. Mr.
      Rayeezuddin and others pitched in by promising “their solidarity and
      support for the jihadi movement and the protection of Muslims all over
      the world.”

      With Bilal presumed killed, the second charge sheet came up in the
      court, which threw it out, quashing the charges against all the
      accused. Against each of the 21 accused, the charge sheet had shown
      invariably the same recoveries: “Two VCDs containing seditious clips,
      rebellious Islamic activities, Urdu seditious matter and Muslim
      fundamentalism.” But not one of the panch witnesses produced by the
      prosecution accepted that he was present when the recoveries were
      made. Panch witness Mohammad Saleem testified that the police wrote up
      the seizure mahazer (memo) after seizing the papers and CDs from a
      fellow police inspector. In one instance “Urdu seditious literature”
      turned out to be in English. The inspector who framed the charge sheet
      confessed to not being able to read Urdu. “Except the alleged
      confessional statement rendered to a police officer, there is no other
      evidence available connecting the accused with the theory of
      conspiracy to wage war,” the judge noted.

      Earlier, in December 2008, another Hyderabad court cleared some among
      the same group of Muslim boys of the charge that they had conspired to
      kill a local Bharatiya Janata Party leader, Sampath. In that case the
      police inspector had translated “Arabic literature” into English
      without knowing any Arabic. The prosecution witness could not even
      confirm the existence of Sampath!

      The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are furious that
      Aseemanand and some other Hindutva names have emerged in recent terror
      investigations. The parivar has every right to demand that due process
      be followed in their cases. However, one wishes they had been
      similarly concerned about young Muslim boys jailed and charge sheeted
      without evidence.
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