A week after the National Investigative Agency dropped terror charges against Kerala youth Muhammed Riyaz under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, saying there was no evidence against him, the 28-year-old asked who would compensate him for ruining his life.
“The State and investigative agencies have ruined my life,” said Riyaz, who hails from Kannur district. “I cannot get rid of the terrorist tag they affixed on me. I have lost my job. I have lost everything. Who will compensate me? Will they say sorry for punishing me for a crime I had never committed?”
Riyaz had married a Malayali Hindu woman in May 2016 after she converted to Islam. The couple lived in Bengaluru and Kochi before moving to Saudi Arabia in mid-2017, where Riyaz had secured a job. In November 2017, about three weeks after his wife returned to India to visit her father after being told he was seriously ill, things took a dramatic turn. A complaint was filed on November 7 before the Kerala High Court, purportedly by his wife, in which Riyaz was accused of “conspiring to sell her to the Islamic State”. The Kerala Police filed a related First Information Report on December 13.
Riyaz says he has not spoken to his wife since November 6, 2017.
The National Investigative Agency arrested him on February 3, 2018. He spent 76 days behind bars.
The decision to drop the terror charges has still not been officially communicated to Riyaz, but a senior Kerala police official confirmed that the charges had indeed been dropped, and that the case had been handed back to the Kerala Police. “Kerala police has received the case file from the NIA,” he said. The officer said that investigators from the North Paravur Police Station in Ernakulam district, where the First Information Report had been filed against Riyaz, will look into charges of domestic violence against him.
According to Riyaz, he met his wife in 2014 when they both were studying in Bengaluru. In May 2016, despite opposition from both of their families, they got married in Bengaluru. Riyaz was 26 at that time, and his wife was 25.
Riyaz said that his wife’s parents, who used to be based in Gujarat, were particularly agitated when they heard of the wedding but their pleas to their daughter that she should walk away from the union fell on deaf ears. Six months after the wedding, her father called her to say that her mother had met with an accident and that she should come home immediately. When she reached home, she realised she had been lured back with a false story. She was subsequently confined at home.
In January 2017, after Riyaz filed a habeas corpus petition, the Kerala High Court, which spoke to his wife, ordered that she be allowed to live with him. The couple lived in Kochi till June 2017. Riyaz moved to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia for work in July and his wife joined him on a visitor’s visa in August. “Life was going smoothly till then despite threats from her father,” said Riyaz. “I got a good job as a manager with a courier company.”
In October 2017, she got a message from her mother asking her to return home as her father was seriously ill. Though she was aware of the risks of going home, said Riyaz, she flew to Kochi to meet her parents on October 14. The two were in constant touch till November 6 but he says he has not spoken to her since as her phone now gives a “switched off” message.
The November 7 complaint purportedly filed by his wife against Riyaz in the Kerala High Court says that Riyaz conspired “to sell her to the Islamic State”. The complaint said that while she was in Saudi Arabia she was locked in a room but managed to contact her parents with the help of neighbours. It said the Indian community in Saudi Arabia helped rescue her from captivity in October, after which she flew back to India. An application was also filed in Riyaz’s wife’s name to annul their marriage.
Similarities with Hadiya
Some of the allegations made against Riyaz are similar to those made in the case of Hadiya – the Hindu woman from Kerala who converted to Islam and married a Muslim man in 2016. Her marriage, strongly opposed by her parents, triggered off a legal and political storm that eventually reached the Supreme Court.
When the case was being heard, Hadiya’s father Ashokan alleged that Muslim organisations were planning to take his daughter to enlist her with the Islamic State. In March 2018, the Supreme Court recognised Hadiya’s marriage, setting aside an earlier order by the Kerala High Court, which had annulled the union.
The Sangh Parivar had played up Hadiya’s case as one of love jihad, a term used for conspiracy theory popularised by Hindutva outfits that Muslim men marry women from other religions, mainly from Hinduism, solely to convert them into Islam.
‘Did I get justice?’
Riyaz said the National Investigating Agency’s decision to drop the terror charges against him does not mean that he has got justice. “How can I convince myself that I got justice?” he asked. “The state has already punished me for a crime that I never committed. The media presented me as terrorist. I don’t know where will my life proceed from here.”
Riyaz said the fabricated charges had cost him a well-paying job in Saudi Arabia. “The incident affected my health and I found myself alienated from friends and family members,” he said. “Everyone looks at me with suspicion even now.”
He said he cannot look for a job at the moment as the National Investigation Agency had confiscated all his education certificates. “I am staring at an uncertain future,” he said.
He said the reason he went to Saudi Arabia in 2017 was because he had got a job there. “Saudi Arabia was an automatic choice for me because my parents live there,” he said.
He refuted the allegation that he had locked his wife up. “We stayed in an apartment in an upmarket area in Jeddah,” he said. “I had told her to send photos of the apartment where we lived to her parents. My intention was to inform them that she was in a safe place. The same photos were presented before the court as the torture room.”
‘I love my wife’
The harrowing experience has not diminished Riyaz’s love for his wife. “We loved and cared so much for each other,” he said. “She is a person of integrity. I realised her courage and will power when I filed the habeas corpus petition in December 2016. The court allowed us to live together after talking to her.”
He believes that his wife’s father coerced her to sign both the complaint against him and the application to annul their marriage. “Else how could she change her stand in less than a year?” he asked.
But he admitted the allegations had hurt him. “I am going through a period where I cannot sleep without taking pills,” he said. “But I want to listen to the true story from her. I hope that will happen soon.”