A court in Gujarat on Saturday acquitted 122 people arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for participating in a meeting in Surat as members of the banned outfit Students’ Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, reported PTI. The Surat Police had arrested 127 people in 2001.

The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate AN Dave acquitted the 122 people, giving them the benefit of doubt. Five of the remaining accused had died during the pendency of the trial.

“The court has found that the accused had gathered to attend [an] educational programme and had not carried any weapon,” the court said, according to The Indian Express. “The prosecution has also not proved that the accused had gathered for any activity related to SIMI. Even during the raids not a single member out of 123 arrested from the spot tried to escape. Neither do the seized documents have any relevance with SIMI.”

On December 28, 2001, the Surat city police had carried out raids at a hall in Navsari Bazaar, apparently on a tip-off, and arrested 123 people who had come from across the country for a gathering.

The police claimed that they had recovered forms to enrol into SIMI, as well as banners, books and literature praising terrorist Osama bin Laden. They had alleged that on seeing the police, several of them present had chewed up SIM cards of their mobile phones, which were rare at the time, to destroy evidence. Four more were taken into custody later.

The participants of the gathering came from different parts of Gujarat as well as from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In their defence, the accused had said they did not belong to the SIMI and had gathered there to participate in a seminar organised under the All India Minority Education Board. However, the police had tried to connect them with SIMI based on the fact that the hall was booked by AR Qureshi and Alif Majid Mansuri, the brother of SIMI national member Sajid Mansuri. The police had alleged that the educational seminar was just a front to carry out SIMI activities.

Of the 127, 111 were present in court on Saturday. Maulana Ataur Rehman Wazdi, now 85-year-old, said that they were shunned by everybody after the arrests. “Nobody talked to us or listened to us,” Wazdi said. “I have lived all these years with the taint of being an anti-national. Now we will at least die free.”

Ziauddin Siddiqui, another accused who was acquitted, said his entire family, including his 85-year-old mother, spent a sleepless night on Friday, a day before the court order. Siddiqui said he first learnt what he was being accused of from television and newspapers. He was a member of SIMI from 1984 to 1993, when the organisation was not banned. He had “retired” from the organisation upon turning 30.

District Government Pleader Advocate Nayan Sukhadwala said they would decide on whether to approach the High Court or not after studying the order.