PUDR strongly condemns the biased nature of investigations, the shortcomings of judicial processes, and the use of anti-democratic laws, which violate the fundamental freedoms of Muslim men accused of anti-state activity. Yet another replay of the same old story was encountered on 15th September, in Hyderabad Metropolitan Sessions Court’s acquittal of three men- Riyaz Khan, Mohammed Sayeed and Vinod Kumar Sahu, in a case of 2011. They together with five other associates, including Vikaruddin, founder of Tehreek-Ghalba-e-Islam,were accused of killing a home guard Balaswamy in May 2009, on the second anniversary of the Mecca Masjid blasts. The anti-terror agency-OCTOPUS- investigating the case, and later the Central Intelligence Cell argued that the killing was a conspiracy to avenge the deaths in police firing at Mecca Masjid in 2007. Read as a terrorist act, the eight were booked under Sections 121 (Waging war against nation), 120 B (conspiracy), 302 (Murder), 307 (Attempt to murder), of the IPC; and Sec 16 (Terrorist Act), 18 (Conspiracy of terrorist act) and 20 (Membership of a banned organization) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The three were acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence to connect them with the conspiracy, and the prosecution’s inability to prove that the recoveries shown were linked to the accused. The three, however, continue to be in jail, as they are still facing trial in another case of 2010, when police constable Ramesh was killed in a shooting on the third anniversary of Mecca Masjid.
The miscarriage of justice in this case becomes all the more horrific when it is recalled that the other five accused-Mohammed Viqaruddin, Mohammed Amjed, Mohammed Zakir, Dr Haneef and Izhar Khan- were all killed in a fake encounter. They were shot dead by the police near Alair town in Nalgonda District in April, 2015, while being escorted from Warangal Central Jail to Nampally Court for a hearing. According to the police, the seventeen strong police escort shot the five dead, in ‘self defence’ as they allegedly snatched weapons and tried to overpower the 17 policemen! The families of the victims had alleged that they were killed as their acquittals were imminent; the police had no case. The three now acquitted were then lodged at Cherlapally jail and their trial continued after the encounter.
The case is stark evidence that the label of terrorist and anti-state activity, allows a carteblanche to police and investigative agencies to falsely incarcerate, prolong trials through shoddy investigation, and even kill the accused with impunity. As the largest section among those incarcerated for terror crimes, or sedition or waging war, Muslims as a community become targets of what are now institutionalised violations of rights of equality before law, life and liberty. They are vulnerable on account of their political beliefs- membership of a banned organisation, or because of their religious identity in a manifestatation of communal politics.
A look at the recent history of acquittals, in 2016 alone, is an eye-opener about the discrimination at work, which is only further strengthened by undemocratic laws like POTA and UAPA, where membership of a banned organisation is made a crime:
- 2nd February, 2016- Five alleged SIMI members acquitted by Mumbai court arrested in as seizures produced by police not verified.
- 20th March 2016 -Three alleged SIMI members acquitted in the Mumbai blasts of 2002-2003.
- 18th April- Nine Muslims arrested in Malegaon blasts case acquitted by Mumbai Sessions Court , after 10 years in prison, as no evidence found.
- 11th May, 2016- Supreme Court acquits three Muslims men arrested in 1994 for bomb blasts at Kota, Surat, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Kanpur in December 1993, after 23 years in prison.
In 2015, over 28 alleged SIMI members were acquitted after suffering incarceration for 7years and more.
These cases where acquittals have occurred after delay are only the tip of the iceberg.
In the light of the above PUDR demands:
- A stop to the targeting of Muslims.
- Criminal prosecution of agencies/officials guilty of shoddy investigation, false arrests, wrongful incarceration.
- The striking down of undemocratic legislations like UAPA, and sections of the IPC.
- The revocation of all bans.
Deepika Tandon, Moushumi Basu