PUDR notes with extreme concern the imminent hanging of Mohd. Arif@ Mohd. Ashfaq, a Pakistani national for the 22nd December 2000 attack on the Red Fort in which three army personnel of 7th batallion of the Rajputana Rifles lost their lives.Mohd. Arif was arrested on 25th December 2000 along with his wife Rehmana. In October 2005 he was sentenced to death by the trial court for waging war against the state and conspiracy to commit murder. This sentence was upheld by the Delhi High Court in September 2007. Even though the Supreme Court (SC)upheld the death penalty in 2011, later in April 2014 the SC stayed his death penalty on grounds of 13 years spent behind bars.
In the same year a petition filed by death row convicts, including Mohd. Arif, on hearing review petition of death row convicts in open courts, was granted by the SC. But Arif’s petition was dismissed on the ground that his curative petition had already been rejected. In December 2014, a review petition challenging the above judgment with respect to Arif was filed (Diary No. 40122 of 2014).
There is a strong indication that the evidence and witnesses presented by the Delhi Police have been concocted against Mohd. Arif and all the other six accused. Four accused were acquitted by the trial court. All the other convicted had to serve their sentence losing their freedoms for years for a crime in which their involvement was not estabished beyond reasonable doubt. PUDR conducted a fact finding and published a report (An Unfair Verdict: A Critique of the Red Fort Attack Judgment [See- http://pudr.org/?q=content/unfair-verdict-critique-red-fort-judgment]) in 2006 exposing the flaws and contradictions in the prosecution’s case and highlighting the grave act of injustice done to Mohd. Arif. The trial court itself agreed that the case was built on circumstantial evidence and there was no direct evidence against any of the accused.Yet despite the chain of evidence, being fragmentary and doubtful, the trial court did not hesitate to award the death penalty.
PUDR’s fact finding revealed contradictions in evidence presented by the prosecution. For example, a piece of a slip of paper establishing Arif’s presence at the Red Fort during the attack comes under scrutiny due to the contradictory statement given by the prosecution witnesses about its recovery. Another piece of evidence, a letter in Urdu, allegedly written by Arif in March 2000 to Babar Mohsin, acknowledging Mohsin’s assistance was recovered from a canvas bag attached to Mohsin’s motorcycle. It seems highly unlikely that such a ‘secret’ letter would be kept in such a casual manner, by a ‘dreaded’ and trained LeT terrorist.
Also Arif’s statement about being forced to write a number of letters in custody was completely ignored by the judge.The validity of the translation of this letter comes under doubt as it was done by a passer-by whose identity remains mysterious. The miraculous recovery of the weapons used in the attack, three days after the area was thoroughly searched by police and sniffer dogs is indicative of the witch hunt against Mohd. Arif. More importantly Arif’s statement u/s 313 CrPC brings the highly secretive RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) into the picture. Arif’s statement claiming to be an agent of RAW is lent credibility by his connection with Nain Singh, a Senior Field Assistant in the Cabinet Secretariat. Nain Singh had given accommodation to Arif while he was in Delhi. This link between an alleged LeT terrorist and a RAW agent poses many questions which were sidelined during the investigation and trial.
There are innumerable loopholes evident in the prosecution’s case against Mohd. Arif. But instead of addressing these contradictions, by accepting prosecution’s flawed narrative and flimsy evidence reveals an eagerness to sacrifice justice at the altar of chauvinistic nationalism. Infact the blatant dismissal of allegations of torture against Arif,by the court, points to a prejudice towards an individual belonging to an ‘enemy state’.
What is evident in Arif’s case is a case of subversion of justice. Keeping this in mind PUDR demands that Arif’s death penalty be immediately commuted. We also demand that a proper investigation be conducted against the officials involved in making up false cases against Arif and other co-accused. Arif’s case strengthens PUDR’s perception of death penalty as an extremely flawed, irreversible punishment, targeting vulnerable individuals. Thus we also demand the abolition of death penalty.
Sharmila Purkayastha and Megha Bahl
25 January, 2015