Throughout July, reports on the arrests of Muslims with suspected links to terror organisations, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, have been hitting the headlines with alarming regularity.
In the first week of the month, the National Investigation Agency arrested 25-year-old Mohammed Masiuddin from West Bengal’s Burdwan railway station, on the suspicion that he had links with militant organisations Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh and ISIS.
Then, on July 12, two Muslim men – allegedly key members of an ISIS “module” – were arrested in Hyderabad on charges of radicalising youth and arranging finances for terror attacks in the city. This came just two weeks after the National Investigation Agency, on June 29, arrested five men from the city for suspected links with the terror group. Further south, in Kerala, at least 11 of 21 people who went “missing” from the state are suspected to have gone to Syria to join ISIS.
And on July 14, Maharashtra’s anti-terrorism squad arrested a 31-year-old suspected ISIS recruit from the state’s Parbhani district.
It will probably take a few years – and multiple court hearings – for these suspicions to be confirmed or falsified. But in this period – if previous cases are anything to go by – the arrested suspects are likely to spend months, if not years, in jail, repeatedly being denied bail and hoping for a fair, speedy trial while their families struggle to know their fate.
Since October 2015, this has been the life of three Muslim men arrested from Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district for suspected terror links under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
A matter of concern
Activists have, for years, been questioning the veracity of the many terror cases slapped against young Muslims. Often, these trials end in acquittals because courts of law do not find enough evidence against the accused.
In February, a Mumbai court acquitted five Muslims 10 years after they were arrested on terror charges in 2006 and had spent most of their youth languishing in prison.
Activists are not alone in believing that the minority community is often unfairly targeted through such arrests. On May 31, DV Sadanand Gowda, who was the Union law minister at the time, said that the arrests of Muslim youth on false terror charges are a cause of concern.
The Yavatmal cases
On September 25, 2015, in Yavatmal’s communally charged Pusad town, 20-year-old Abdul Malik attacked three police constables with a kitchen knife in the presence of several eye-witnesses, allegedly to avenge the state government for introducing a ban on beef. Over the next month, after interrogating Malik, the state’s anti-terrorism squad made two more arrests from the town: that of 24-year-old Shoaib Khan, an alleged sympathiser of the banned Student Islamic Movement of India, and 26-year-old Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, a priest and teacher at the local madrasa, accused of radicalising young Muslims through his sermons. All three have been lodged in Nagpur Central Jail.
When Scroll.in visited Pusad in December 2015, no charge sheets had been filed in the cases, but the police claimed to have evidence that Malik’s attack on the constables was part of a larger terror conspiracy masterminded by Rahman. The three men’s lawyers, however, claimed that Malik’s assault on the constables was an isolated incident and that Rahman and Khan are innocent.
Nearly 10 months later, the three men are still waiting to be granted bail and their applications for the same have remained unprocessed due to several delays.
“The charge sheets against them were filed in February and we began applying for bail soon after,” said Mir Nagman Ali, an advocate with the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court and one of the lawyers representing the three men.
Those charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act can be granted bail by a judicial bench only after hearing any potential objections from the public prosecutor. “But their bail applications have been pending for months,” Ali said. “Either the court has been on a summer break or judges have been repeatedly transferred.”
Rubina Parveen, Malik’s 17-year-old sister, is aware that the chances of him being released on bail are slim as he was seen attacking constables in broad daylight. “But they’re not even giving him a proper bail hearing,” she said. “Either the public prosecutor is on leave, or they take him for hearings without even informing our lawyer.”
No bail in sight
Mujeeb-ur-Rahman’s family, however, was convinced that he would get bail easily. Rahman has been suffering from ulcerative colitis for the past four years and has fallen sick repeatedly ever since he was jailed in Nagpur.
“Last week, he had to be admitted to a hospital because of severe illness – the fourth time this has happened in seven months,” said Rahman’s younger brother, Atiq-ur-Rahman, who earns a meagre income as a building contractor.
Rahman’s mother, wife and two-year-old son try to visit him in jail at least twice a month, but the travel from Pusad to Nagpur is a financial strain for them.
“The court has granted my brother the permission to eat special food because of his health, but the jail authorities give him spicy jail food anyway,” Atiq-ur-Rahman said. “We even pay the jail Rs 2,000 a month for his food, but that seems to be going down the drain.”
Khan’s family, meanwhile, claimed he is being mistreated in prison. “He tells us he has been facing a lot of harassment,” said Owais Mirza, Khan’s cousin in Pusad. “If he tries to read any religious book, the jail authorities turn off the lights and fans. He is subjected to physical torture too and his bail hearings keep getting postponed.”
Manish Patil, the head inspector of the Akola anti-terrorism squad unit that is handling these cases, claimed they were proceeding at the usual pace. “We have submitted all the evidence we had in the charge sheet,” he said. “If they haven’t had their turn for a bail hearing, there is nothing we can do.”