PUDR demands the immediate release of Abu Bilal Kawa who was arrested on January 10, 2018 by a joint team of the Special Cell and Gujarat ATS from outside Delhi’s International Airport. The Deputy Commissioner Special Cell said that the suspect was arrested after it was confirmed that he was “the same man we were looking for in the Red Fort terrorist shoot out case” (Hindustan Times, 11.01.2018). Subsequently, a city court sent Bilal Kawa to ten-days police remand.
Kawa is said to be a proclaimed offender in the Red Fort attack case of December 2000, a shoot-out in which 3 personnel of the Rajputana Rifles lost their lives and for which death penalty was awarded to Mohd. Arif @ Ashfaq, a Pakistani national who continues to languish in solitary confinement. The prosecution had argued that Kawa was part of hawala transactions and that the main accused, Mohd. Arif, had allegedly disbursed a sum of 29 lakhs in Kawa’s account in Srinagar as well as in the accounts of two other men from Srinagar, Farooq and Nasir Quasid.
While it is the duty of the law enforcing agency to arrest proclaimed offenders, Kawa’s belated arrest raises several questions which refute the police’s claim that Kawa has been in hiding all this while:
- After his arrest Kawa has told the police that he frequents Delhi as he is a businessman and that his January visit was for a medical check-up.
- Neighbours and family members in Srinagar have stated that in all these years no police warrant has been issued against Kawa.
- The J&K police has confirmed that there is no pending FIR against Kawa in the nearby Maharaj Gunj Zainkadal PS.
- The family members have also asserted that Kawa’s brother is a resident of Delhi for the past twenty years and that he’s never faced any queries from the police.
Besides these obvious questions which suggest that the arrest is politically motivated, Kawa’s alleged role in the larger conspiracy, as claimed by the police, deserves scrutiny within the controversial legal history of the Red Fort attack case:
- Before the trial court, the police had failed to furnish the prosecution claim against the above mentioned Quasids as it could not procure bank documents or show how the disbursed money was used for furthering LeT sponsored terrorist activities. Not surprising that the Quasids along with four others were acquitted by the High Court in 2007. The High Court had also pointed out that in a case which was tried under normal law, the reliance of the trial court on confessional statements of accused, was a case of miscarriage of justice. It must be remembered that Kawa is said to have the same role as that of the Quasids.
- The Special Cell, the investigating agency, which arrested Kawa has played an infamous role as it killed a prime suspect, Abu Shamal, on the plea of ‘self-defence’. The ‘encounter’ was doubtful as the residents of Batla House in Jamia Nagar claimed that there was no such incident on the morning of 26th December 2000.
- The legal controversies of the Red Fort attack case are not restricted to shoddy investigations and unethical practices of the Special Cell. It is built into the very chain of evidence as the ‘recoveries’made against the main accused—weapons, mobile phones and letters—were as controversial as the omission of his statement before the Magistrate, S.313 CrPC in which he named a RAW agent, Nain Singh. Based on flimsy evidence, a politically motivated case of terrorism was built and Mohd. Arif was given the death penalty and he continues to remain the sole accused. Quite clearly, Kawa’s arrest brings a new shine to an old case and which resuscitate familiar fears about lawless investigations.
- Significantly, a member of the Special Cell personnel told the media soon after the arrest that “why he (Kawa) could not be arrested for the last seventeen years is a matter of ‘investigation” (HT, 11.01). If that is so, the arrest and ten-day remand sought by the police are extremely questionable.
- It is to be noted that the implications of arresting a Kashmiri businessman with young children on the eve of Republic Day on charges of evading arrest serves the current right-wing purpose of projecting Kashmiri terrorism. It also confirms what the residents of the Old City of Srinagar feel: yet another instance of ‘framing innocent Kashmiris’.
PUDR strongly refutes the police’s claim that Kawa was in hiding or that he has a central role in the Red Fort attack case. Given the circumstances and facts of the case, the arrest of Abu Bilal Kawa seems like a clear case of political harassment. PUDR demands the unconditional release of Abu Bilal Kawa.
Shashi Saxena, Shahana Bhattacharya
15th Jan 2018