In a span of just two weeks, two investigating agencies in India – the Delhi Police’s Special Cell and Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad – suffered massive setbacks after courts dismissed the theories the agencies built up around two cases by discharging the accused in one, and acquitting another of all terrorism-related charges.
The Delhi Police’s Special Cell had painted Tunda as the alleged bombmaker of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba, and named him in 20 cases. However, it only filed four chargesheets against him and on March 5, Tunda was discharged by a trial court in Delhi in the fourth and last case. He had already been discharged in connection with three other terror cases last year. The word discharged means that the cases against Tunda were so fragile that they failed to even come up for trial.
Similarly, Baig – who had been sentenced to death by a trial court for the German Bakery blast in Pune in 2010 – was acquitted of all terrorism-related charges by the Bombay High Court on March 17. Of the 11 charges against him, only two were upheld – one related to the possession of explosives and the other to the forgery of documents.
Tunda’s and Baig’s cases represent how shoddily investigating and prosecuting agencies handle incidents of terror, and also expose the agencies’ bias. But these are just two examples of Muslims being embroiled in terror cases without evidence before they are finally acquitted after wasting away years in jail. There are more such cases.
A report, Framed, Damned, Acquitted, prepared by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association in Delhi examines several cases of youth, the majority of them Muslim, who were arrested on terror charges by the Delhi Police Special Cell, tortured, jailed but were eventually acquitted in court.
In Maharashtra, in the Ghatkopar blast cases of 2002, all eight accused, again all Muslims, were acquitted at the end of the trial. Another accused, Khwaja Yunus, was killed in police custody – four policemen are being tried for his death at present.
Similarly, in the Malegaon blast case of 2008, many Muslim men were arrested initially even though evidence later pointed the needle of suspicion towards Hindu terror groups. It’s another story that attempts are being made to drop charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against the 11 accused in the case – a move many believe is due to political pressure.
Then in 2014, the Supreme Court acquitted all six persons convicted for the 2002 attack on Gujarat’s Akshardham temple. All of these persons – including three on death row – had already spent 11 years in jail. One of them has even written a book about his experience.
All this brings up important questions: Why are only Muslim men targeted after every blast? What happens to the investigating agency that prosecutes these people falsely? Is it answerable to anyone for the years the acquitted-accused have spent in jail? Do the people have a right to know who the real culprits are once the accused have been acquitted? Doesn’t this clearly demonstrate the culpability and inadequacy of the investigating agencies in identifying the real culprits? Does it not call for a course correction by investigating agencies that are supposed to be unbiased while investigating crimes?
In the case of Mirza Himayat Baig, the investigating agency as well as the prosecuting agency deserve equal censure in misleading the country with regard to his arrest even as the real culprits seem to have escaped. The case made against Baig is baffling to say the least. Even a lay person with very little knowledge of legal intricacies of a criminal case will be able to spot its gaping holes.
German Bakery blast
On February 13, 2010, a powerful bomb exploded at Pune’s famous German Bakery at Koregaon Park. The bakery, which is close to the Osho Ashram, has always been popular with youngsters and foreign tourists. Seventeen people were killed and 58 were injured in the blast. Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad or ATS took over the case and claimed that it had identified the person who planted the bomb through CCTV footage at the bakery. But it did not arrest anyone for the next four months.
In June 2010, the ATS arrested Abdul Samad – a young Muslim resident of the town of Bhatkal in Karnataka – ostensibly for the Pune blast. But shortly after his arrest, Samad’s parents held a press conference where they released videos and pictures of Samad attending a wedding in Bhatkal on the day of the blast. The ATS theory had collapsed.
The ATS then changed its stand and said that the bomber was actually Samad’s brother Ahmed Siddibapa also known as Yasin Bhatkal. It showed Samad as having been arrested in an Arms Act case, and he was soon released on bail.
In September 2010, the ATS arrested Himayat Baig, a resident of Udgir, a small town in Beed district of Maharashtra. The ATS claimed that Baig, along with Yasin Bhatkal, had carried out the German Bakery bombing. At the time of his arrest, Baig ran a small cyber cafe. The ATS said that Baig had confessed to his role, adding that explosives had been recovered from his home.
Baig was chargesheeted in December 2010. The chargesheet said that Yasin Bhatkal prepared the bomb at Baig’s cyber café and both Baig and Bhatkal, during the early hours of February 13, transported the bomb from Udgir to Pune, 388 km away. The chargesheet went on to say that the duo planted the bomb at around 5 pm at the German Bakery, and it exploded at around 6.50 pm.
In November 2011, almost a year after Baig was arrested, the Delhi Police’s Special Cell arrested Qateel Siddiqui, a 28-year-old, who belonged to Darbhanga district in Bihar. The Delhi Police claimed that Siddiqui was involved in several terror strikes including the Chinnaswamy stadium blasts in Bengaluru, and the German Bakery blast in Pune – both in 2010.
Both Bengaluru and the Delhi Police interrogated Siddiqui. It is important to note here, that no connection was seen between Siddiqui and Baig at that time. While interrogating Siddiqui, the Delhi and Bengaluru police discovered that Siddiqui and Yasin had collaborated to plant bombs at two places in Pune. They found that while Siddiqui was supposed to plant a bomb at the Dagaduseth Halwai Ganesh Temple, Yasin had taken it upon himself to plant one at the German Bakery.
This contradicted the theory of the Maharashtra ATS that Bhatkal was with Baig throughout the day of the Pune blast. This conflicting information was never brought before the trial court in Pune, which eventually sentenced Baig to death.
To harmonise these blatant contradictions, the ATS sent an officer named Dinesh Kadam to interrogate Siddiqui. Kadam returned to Pune, where he filed a fresh complaint against Siddiqui, charging him for attempting to bomb a temple in Pune. The ATS then took custody of Siddiqui in this new case in May 2012 and brought him to Maharashtra. A Pune court sent him to judicial custody on May 28. Siddiqui was lodged in a high-security cell at Yerwada Jail in Pune. Eleven days later, on June 8, he was mysteriously murdered. That was the day Siddiqui was supposed to be brought back to Delhi to be produced before a court in connection with a separate case registered against him by the Delhi Police’s Special Cell. The Maharashtra police claimed that two fellow inmates killed Siddiqui after an angry exchange. According to the police, he was strangulated with a cord from a pair of shorts. Siddiqui’s death still remains a mystery.
Less than a year later, the sessions court in Pune convicted Himayat Baig in the German Bakery case and sentenced him to death.
The Bombay High Court may have eventually acquitted Baig of all terror-related charges, and he is most likely to move the Supreme Court to acquit him of the charge of possessing explosives, but the question that still lingers is: Who was actually responsible for the German Bakery blast?
An enormous amount of public money was spent in investigating Tunda’s and Baig’s cases and in prosecuting them. When the wrong persons are arrested and prosecuted, somebody has to be held accountable for misleading the country. When the accused are initially arrested, the media splashes it as a huge achievement. But after Baig’s acquittal in the case, shouldn’t the investigating agency explain to the people of this country why the case failed?
Vijay Hiremath is a lawyer and activist who works in the field of human rights.
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