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BRP Bhaskar: Twists and turns of blast probes
February 21, 2017
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A Delhi court’s acquittal of two men who spent more than 11 years in jail, implicated in terror cases, has revealed how shoddy investigation and prosecution are ruining the lives of young people.

Mohammed Rafiq Shah, a MA final year student, was attending classes at the Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies in Srinagar when a series of bombs exploded in Delhi on October 29, 2005, killing 67 persons. Members of a special cell of the Delhi police and a task force of the Kashmir police picked him up from his home some days later. The Delhi cops said he had planted a bomb in a bus.

The police had two eyewitnesses who gave differing descriptions of the man who planted the bomb. Neither account matched Rafiq Shah’s appearance. The cops got a barber to trim his beard to correspond to one of the accounts.

Three of Shah’s teachers testified before the Delhi court that he had attended classes in the Srinagar campus on the day of the blast.

The judge found several infirmities in the police version and acquitted him and the other two accused, Mohammed Hussain Fazli and Tariq Ahmed Dar, of charges related to the blasts.

Dar was found guilty of having links with a Pakistan-based terrorist group and sentenced to 10 years in jail. But all three had been in prison for a longer period already. Their repeated attempts to secure bail had failed as courts labour under pressure from the state and presumed public opinion in cases linked to terrorism.

In sending Afzal Guru to the gallows in the Parliament attack case, the Supreme Court had famously said, “The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to this offender.”

The Chhattisgarh police had accused Binayak Sen, reputed paediatric surgeon and human rights defender, only of maintaining contacts with leaders of the banned Maoist party and not of any act of crime. Yet even the apex court refused him bail when he was facing trial. After his conviction, it granted him bail, pending disposal of bail. Its approach changed presumably because a different kind of pressure worked on it with more than 30 Nobel laureates from different lands deploring the action against Sen.

“It seems I am being victimised only because I am a Kashmiri Muslim,” Rafiq Shah had told the court when charges were being framed against him. But, then, young men in other states, too, have been through such bizarre experience. Nine persons implicated in the Malegaon blast case in Maharashtra and five in the Mecca Masjid blast case were acquitted by courts after trials that went on for several years.

Muthiyur Rahman Siddiqui, a Bangalore journalist, who was picked up with 10 others for plotting terror, was lucky to regain freedom in a few months as the investigating agency admitted it had found no evidence against him. He said later media reports of the arrest had denied him the presumption of innocence and many had assumed he was guilty.

The most famous victim of vexatious prosecution is Abdul Naser Mahdani, founder of the People’s Democratic Party in Kerala, who was acquitted after he had spent nearly 10 years in a Tamil Nadu jail as an accused in the Coimbatore blast case. Later the Karnataka police arrested him in connection with a blast in Bangalore. Police in Gujarat and Rajasthan are ready with reports implicating him in blasts in those states.

Muslims are not the only victims, as Binayak Sen’s experience shows. Kobad Ghandy, a 68-year-old Parsi, whom the police describe as a Maoist ideologue, was acquitted by a Delhi court last year in a case under the dreaded Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. He is still behind bars as 14 cases against him are pending in different states.

Some bomb blasts in which Muslim youths were implicated were later found to be the work of Hindu extremists. Thereafter investigation slowed down, indicating political considerations are at play.

The twists and turns of the blast probes have damaged the credibility of the investigating agencies. The government needs to initiate measures to strengthen them professionally to ensure that they do not target innocent people. It must also take steps to rehabilitate the young people whose lives have been wrecked by wrongful prosecution on terror charges and consequent stigmatisation.
 
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