Being imprisoned for a crime one did not commit, being acquitted and freed after going through a hard ordeal of physical and mental agony, granting of ‘Good Service Entry’ to those officers whose hands played key role in unreasonably locking up innocent persons in prisons, being denied any sort of a compensation for the deprival of valuable years of their life, their opportunity and their dignity, having to live in the society as terrorists even after being acquitted of all charges: the torture and the prison term of several Muslim youth did not cease even after it has been proved that the real hands which worked behind the Mecca Masjid and Malaegon blast were Hindutwa terrorists.
There are hundreds in our country who have been sealed with the impression of ‘terrorists’ merely because they were born into a particular religion, and this indeed poses huge question marks to our democracy. It is this realization which prompted Solidarity Youth Movement to organize the programme titled,”Youth Movement: People’s Tribunal of Acquitted Innocents.” Individuals who were prosecuted under charges of terrorism and later exonerated gathered from different parts of the country at Tagore Hall in Calicut March 11, 2017. They shared their agonizing experience before the large audience which consisted of social workers, human rights activists, academic experts and the general public. This was the second People’s Tribunal conducted by the Innocence Network India, hosted here by Solidarity Youth Movement. Innocence Network India is a collective which consists of organizations like Solidarity Youth Movement, South Asian Human Resource Documentation Center People’s Watch, PUCL, Quill Foundation, Human Resource Law Networks, Unsafe, SPACE, Jamiatul Ulama-e-Hind, JTSA, NCHRO, People’s Human Rights Movement (Janakiya Manushyan Avakasha Movement), Minority Rights’ Watch, and People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy. The programme at Tagore Hall was a continuation of the first Tribunal organized under Innocence Network in Delhi on October 2, 2016 where several innocent people and victims trapped in terrorist cases had gathered. There are hundreds of Muslim youngsters in several prisons of the country charged with terrorism. Earlier, there was a general fear to look into these cases and to interact with the families of the accused, remarked T. Shakir Velom, President of Solidarity, in his introductory speech. The stance of the Indian media is also problematic while arrests of these people in terrorist acts getlarge headlines, their acquittal and release are almost totally ignored. It is the basic tenet of democracy to ensure justice of one and all, and hence Solidarity considers these interventions to help out the victims as a key to strengthening democracy, Shakir added.
Garib Ali introduced Innocence Network as the collective of those who have been imprisoned in various cases across India and of those who have been deliberately and forcefully included in other issues. The Network presently functions at three levels. On one level, it studies cases, procedures related to the police, and court discourses. As a result of these studies, they also provide necessary legal assistance to the concerned victims, and the Network has been able to make forth strides in several cases. Sometimes, cases are also filed against officials who deliberately convict the innocent. The second area that the Network lays focus on is the rehabilitation and related activities of the wrongfully convicted individuals and their families. This also includes activities to ensure the deserving compensation for their families. The third realm that is emphasised is making the general public aware of these cases, through campaigns like this to develop the citizen awareness about the victims.
Manisha Sethi explained about the Jury and its functioning. The innocent who had suffered long years of imprisonment and then ultimately acquitted reach the jury. Even though there are numerous such cases and many of them had been declared by the Supreme Court to be fabricated, the Indian Judiciary is still ineffective at addressing them. It might be possible to find solutions to at lest some of the problems through these trials. Many nations of the world have come forward to provide compensation to the wrongfully convicted innocents. “This programme should be an inspiration to make possible the granting of compensation in India too. The programme should extend beyond listening to the heart wrenching tales of the innocent individuals, to making a stride to a tomorrow where justice truly dawns,” added Manisha Sethi.
The jury members included famous historian and former Chairman of ICHRM, Dr. M. G. S. Narayanan, Former Assistant Director of Intelligence Bureau, K. S. Subrahmanian IPS, Former Additional Solicitor General Adv. Ravi Varma Kumar, Dr. Sajjad Hassan IAS, HR Activist, Dr. Vasudha Maharaj, and Prof. M. V. Narayanan of Calicut University.
Yahya Kammukkutty from Calicut who had spent seven years in the jail on being (wrongfully) convicted in the Hubli case, first appeared before the jury. The Hubli case was an excellent example of how the police and other related systems create a case with remarkable planning. The police had scripted a story to ambush a large number of people who were connected to SIMI. Thus, Yahya was also caught.
The second case which was presented before the jury was the Hyderabad Mecca Masjid bomb blast. The police had taken into custody some 200 Muslim youngsters from the vicinity of Hyderabad. Among them was a Sayyid Imran, who was just 19 years old then. He was accused of having stored 10 kilograms of RDX in his house. However, after 18 months of imprisonment, he was found innocent and acquitted.
The next case which was presented before the jury exemplified yet another way in which Muslim youngsters are entrapped by the state and other systems. Irshad Ahmed Malik from Delhi who was an IB informer narrated how he was ambushed in a case merely because he refused to dance to the tunes of the police. He was charged for possessing weapons, which however on CBI investigation was found to be the ones handed over by the police themselves. Even though he was released on bail after three years it took him ten years to relieve himself from all the problems related to the case.
The jury looked into a case which dealt with the issues of compensation and the related struggles. Rashid Hussain who spent nine days in prison after being convicted in Jaipur bomb blast case shared his experiences before the jury. He was an employee at the Infosys when he was arrested; and he lost his job. However, he could fortunately receive compensation from Infosys.
Next came a Malayali Shahul Gamers who was arrested on allegations of spreading fake messages on social media. And the evidence sited was something created by someone else. This was a striking example of Muslim youth being monitored on their social networking activities. Nasar of Panayikulam case narrated his story which was an instance of filing cases against Muslim youngsters who had merely participated in a public programme.
Yet another case which was presented before the jury was that of Hanif Packetwala who was convicted in Ahmedabad tiffin box bomb blast case. The police had selectively spotted Hanif and his friends who were active in rescue programmes after the blast. He had to spend 14 years in jail.
The last case which came under the jury’s consideration was an example of how Muslim youngsters were caught in cases as witness. Abrar Ahmed who was arrested and later labelled as witness on account of Malaegon blast on the morning of Bara’ath shared his ordeals. It was Abrar and others who had helped to take the injured to the hospital and in donating blood. And the only evidence provided by the police against the Muslim youth was the statement of Abrar which he says were given under compulsion. He was subjected to torture. And it was only due to the long legal battle fought along with his brother’s help that he was released.
A talk by K. K. Suhail(Director of Quill Foundation) followed the narrations. He reminded that the cases presented here are not the only instances of the innocent being wrongfully convicted. It is rather a well executed project by the state. He pointed to the fact that the highest number of cases is reported in Maharashtra. Of the 92 cases registered,verdicts of 42 people were declared of which thirty nine of them found to be Innocence and acquitted. (Only) three of them were found to be guilty. This clearly shows the nature of all the cases in the country.
The terror cases in India can be divided into six; out of which five were fabricated:
(I) Arrest an (absolutely) innocent individual and force them to confess a crime through torture.
For example: the case of Sayyid Imran
(II) Trap an individual in a case by seeking the help of their informers and tempt others to commit crime.
For example: the case of Irshad Ahmed Malik
(III) Entrap the informers themselves in the cases and use them to create evidences.
For example: The case of Abrar and of Irshad
(IV) If the convict belongs to a certain community or group, charge him in terror cases.
(V) Cases based on Propaganda
For example: Shahul Hameed’s case
Here, the person is depicted a criminal even though he has done no crime, he has not been presented before the court for any allegations, nor has he been convicted by the police.
(VI) The real cases of terrorism: In fact actual incidents of Islamic terrorism is extremely low in India. Out of the 5328 cases reported in the country, Left terror accounts for 42%, miscellaneous attacks for 35%, and 22% account for separatism. Only 0.93% have been registered as Islamic terrorism.
An important question which rises here is as to who actually benefitted from these cases. The market of surveillance technologies and equipments like CCTV cameras expanded exponentially. Yet another group which reap the harvest are the political parties who gain victory in election through communal divisions. A third category includes police officers who exploit these cases in exchange of gifts, rewards, and for promotions. K. K. Suhail added that the marginalized communities can be pushed to further margins consequently. His presentation provided a comprehensive ideas on the terror cases in India. Favas Shaheen, Quill Foundation representative, anchored the programme
Aaysha Humayoon Kabeer is a social activist