Uttar Pradesh – PUDR statement on the death of Khalid Mujahid in police custody


June 11, 2013

PUDR strongly condemns the death of Khalid Mujahid, an undertrial arrested in 2007 in connection with bomb blasts in UP earlier that year. Mujahid died on 19 May, 2013 when he was being escorted by a team of the Uttar Pradesh state police from a court in Faizabad to Lucknow jail. His death while under police escort in what is a clear case of custodial killing raises several questions – the rights of citizens, especially Muslim youth; the character of the police and state; the truth behind terror cases and arrests.

Khalid Mujahid, together with Tariq Qasmi had been shown as arrested on 22 December 2007 from Barabanki railway station. The ATS accused them of being behind the bomb blasts in Lucknow and Faizabad courts in November 2007, and the blast in Gorakhpur, claiming that explosives and other incriminating material were found on the two. The Bahujan Samaj Party, then in power, set up a Commission of Inquiry in March 2008 following protests against the arrests.

The Justice RD Nimesh Commission of Inquiry constituted by the state government to look into this matter submitted its report in December 2012 almost exactly five years after their arrests.

The inquiry commission examined police records, affidavits and testimonies of witnesses. On this basis, it concluded there was ample evidence to show that Tariq Qasmi and Khalid Mujahid were arrested not on 22 December 2007 as claimed, but on 12 December and 16 December respectively. The Commission reports that when the National Loktantrik Party’s youth leader in UP Choudhary Chadrapal threatened to immolate himself on 22 December if by then the two Muslim youth were not released, that the top brass decided to show their arrest on 22 December from Barabanki railway station. The Commission recommended action against the concerned officers and personnel who could be identified.

Despite the conclusions of the report and evidence cited, the now ruling Samajwadi Party too dragged its feet. By the time the government acted on the report, another six months passed. Finally on the basis of the Commission’s report the state government moved an application to withdraw the case. However the Special Court in Barabanki turned down the application in May 2013, claiming that the charges were much too serious. And then, nine days later, Khalid died in police custody, in circumstances which remain mysterious.

Some light can be shed on the so-called mystery by recalling that Khalid’s story is one that is being played out over and over again. The forms may be different but the essential plot and characters remain the same. Bomb blast/s occur. Muslim youth are picked up. Connections with SIMI etc. are alleged; seizure of explosives and extremist literature produced as evidence. In many cases the accused are found to be innocent, having been wrongly incarcerated for years. They are either released on bail or cases withdrawn or they may still continue to be in jail due to various reasons. This, if they are lucky. It isn’t unusual that some like Khalid never return. Not too long back in November 2012 Quateel Siddiqui (arrested for his alleged involvement in the German Bakery blasts) too died in a high security cell in Yerawada jail in Pune, in judicial custody. Again, under so called ‘mysterious circumstances.’ However generally no one is held accountable for the years lost and lives destroyed.

In this context PUDR welcomes the fact that in this case a rare FIR has been filed against 42 police personnel, including the former DG of Police Uttar Pradesh. Whether the case will be properly investigated, and the guilty prosecuted, remains to be seen.

Khalid Mujahid’s arrest, imprisonment and custodial death exposes the brazenness with which the police and ATS routinely arrest Muslim youth under false charges, force ‘confessions’, torture and kill them in custody. It also reveals the callous attitude of elected governments wary of displeasing the police, ATS or the Hindutva elements; and a compromised judiciary for whom terrorist activity requires no proof; guilt is decided by the magnitude of the alleged crime.

These acts of omission and commission expose a disturbing synchronicity between various agencies in terrorizing ordinary citizens, particularly Muslim youth, in the alleged fight against terrorism. The fact that a person could remain incarcerated for years after being abducted illegally and implicated in a fabricated case raises the issue of institutionalization of bias against Muslim youth in the name of fighting ‘terrorism’. Not only does ‘let law takes its course’ approach means years can elapse before those falsely implicated, mostly Muslim youth, win back their freedom. But their struggle to do so through the legal system is now coming under attack from Hindutva forces in an organized way amounting to a violation of the right to legal defense. While protests against Khalid’s custodial death were expressed in several cities in UP including Faizabad immediately afterwards, the local Bar Association passed a resolution expelling Khalid Mujahid’s lawyer Jamal Ahmad. His assistant Mohammad Shakeel was grievously injured. Indeed local bar associations have been issuing diktats that those accused of terror attacks will not be defended by their members and anyone who defies this ban will face expulsion and threat to life. Their recurrent diktats and attacks on lawyers who defy their ban has not persuaded either the High Court/Supreme Court or the Bar Council of India to show any concern over this subversion of the ‘rule of law’.

The death of Khalid Mujahid, raises questions about the police, lower judiciary and legal profession and their commitment to uphold, without discrimination, the constitutionally mandated protection of life and liberty of every citizen. PUDR calls upon all democratically minded people to protest against this attack on democratic rights and violation of the laws of natural justice and demands that:

1. Criminal responsibility be fixed in the in death of Khalid Mujahid and the guilty punished.

2. The Bar Associations expel lawyers obstructing legal aid to the accused, and lawyers guilty of attacking Khalid’s defense counsels be immediately disbarred.

3. Arbitrary picking up and illegal detention of Muslim youth be stopped and officials guilty of their wrongful confinement and fabrication of cases against be prosecuted and punished.

D. Manjit
Asish Gupta
(Secretaries)

 

Die a thousand deaths—the endless wait of UP’s death row inmates #Deathpenalty


NIRALA TRIPATHI
Karan Singh, Babloo, Rakesh Kumar, Barabanki Jail
In jail for 9 years now for murder of a cousin’s wife. Hoping HC will overturn death verdict.
No Noose Ends Here
Die a thousand deaths—the endless wait of UP’s death row inmates for the HC to decide their fate
SHARAT PRADHAN, The Outlook

Devendra Nath Rai was a young army soldier, barely 34, when he was charged and court-martialled for the murder of a superior, convicted and given a death sentence. He’s now 56. He has spent the past 22 years in the historic Naini Central Jail in Allahabad, once the British Raj’s favourite dumping ground for freedom fighters, waiting for his own hanging. Deven­dra’s sentence is, literally, hanging—because the mandatory confirmation by the Allah­abad High Court is still awaited. And no one knows how many more years he will have to spend in this purgat­ory-like state. The provisions of Section 366 of the CrPC clearly spell out that “when the court of session passes a death sentence, the proceedings shall be submitted to the high court, and the sentence shall not be executed unless it is confirmed  by the high court”. The suspense is killing, because even in this mandatory function, the HC is empowered to not just confirm or commute the sentence but even to acquit the convict.

Expectedly enough, Devendra’s is not the only case of its type. As many as 99 death sentence convicts are languishing in different jails of Uttar Pradesh—and they have been inside for varying periods, from one year to 22 years. They are all awaiting their turn before the Allahabad HC, simply to know whether they will meet their end in the gallows or be allowed to live, even if it is within the four walls of a prison. What makes matters worse is these inmates are not entitled to bail or par­ole “during the pendency of confirmation of sentence” by the court.

Brooding over these uncertainties for over two decades, it seems, has taken a toll on the mind of the former lance naik of the Signals Corps. Jail authorities admit to having referred him to a psychiatrist for some time. But despite his incoherent talk, he remains consistent on one issue: “I did not kill anyone; I was implicated by my bosses, one of whom actually gunned down the Company havildar major and another soldier for which I am in jail,” Devendra toldOutlook outside his barracks at Naini jail.


Photograph by Nirala Tripathi

Devendra Nath, Naini Jail
22 years in jail, got death for murder of a superior in the army

Back home in Amethi village under Gambhirpur police circle of Azamgarh district, about 175 km away, Devendra’s wife Mithilesh is equally disillusioned. For what good it’s done, she’s had a routine for the past many years. Every morning she rises, goes out and bows her head to pray before the Lord Shiva statue carefully installed under an ancient peepal tree trunk just at the threshold of her ramshackle home.

These inmates are not allowed parole or bail “during the pendency of confirmation of sentence by the HC”.

It hasn’t helped Devendra’s cause much though. “I am barely able to meet him once a year because it costs a lot of money, nearly a thousand rupees which is more than what I can save over a year,” says an anguished Mithilesh. In the intervening years, she has managed to get two daughters married off though, thanks “to our relatives and people in the neighbourhood”. A third daughter lives with her grandparents in Mumbai where she is pursuing her graduation after which “she hopes to get a job so she is able to fight her father’s court battle”. Sadly, the father could not attend the two weddings because, again, he is not entit­led to parole until the HC comes to a decision. (Devendra coul­dn’t even recall when he had last seen his daughters.)

An assertive high court recently orde­red action against lax bureaucrats and cops sleeping over judicial directives; this  has lent Mithilesh some hope. “I have heard the court has taken serious note of the delays, so I am hoping my husband’s case too would get expedi­ted…I have waited a full lifetime just to know whether I am going to become a widow or not,” Mithilesh says, her eyes welling with tears. “I still haven’t given up hope that the court will commute his sentence to life imprisonment.”

However, even if Mithilesh’s wishful thinking were to come true, it’s not as if Devendra will be set free. The law is usually clear about offsetting the time spent as undertrial against the sentence. But there’s a catch-22 here too. As leading criminal lawyer I.B. Singh points out, “That rule won’t apply as Dev­endra’s punishment hasn’t been con­firmed by the high court. The poor chap’s  life-term (if at all) will come into effect only from the date of confirmation by the HC. Which means all these years he spent behind bars become meaningless.”


Photograph by Nirala Tripathi

Sukh Lal, Naini Jail
In jail since ’01, killed  the three sons of his father’s murderer 12 years after the event

I.B. Singh, who had earlier fought to get reprieve for 42 women convicts and und­­ertrials languishing in Lucknow jail for over two decades, is appalled with the rights violation involved. “It’s time the judiciary as a whole rises to save people from such avoidable physical harassment and mental agony; after all letting matters relating to their life and death hang fire for years is making the poor convicts die a thousand deaths before they meet their actual end,” he feels.

Cases like Devendra’s are spread across 27 jails of the state. One such comes from another historic penal institution, the 153-year-old Barabanki jail, where three mothers are anxiously waiting for their respective sons, convicted of the murder of a cousin’s wife. Police records say they are guilty of “pre-meditated, cold-bloo­ded murder”, believed to be over an old family property dispute, but the mothers insist they are innocent. The accused, Karan Singh, Babloo and Rakesh Kumar claim they were “working in Lucknow when the murder took place but because of the old land dispute between our families we were falsely implicated”.

The murder took place in Ladai ka Purwa village under Loni Katra police circle of Barabanki district on January 12, ’04. The conviction came seven years later. And while the ratification of their death sentence was awaited, they moved an appeal before the HC, which reserved its verdict sometime in February last. The mothers are hoping for a possible reprieve in the appeal. “The witnesses have disclosed in the HC how they were compelled to give tutored statements against our sons,” they told Outlook.

Incidentally, all three mothers are widows who have mortgaged parts of their small one bigha of land to pay the lawyer’s fees. “The lawyer is confident about the merit in our case,” says Sarju Devi, one of the mothers.

Now, unlike Devendra and the others who claim innocence, there are also peo­ple like Sukh Lal, 43, on death row, who has no qualms about admitting his crime. “Yes, I killed three of his sons with my licensed gun…they had to pay for my father’s murder. Their father had killed him in front of my eyes; I was a kid at the time, all I could do was watch and wait patiently for 12 years,” he says.

While he has no regrets about the act, what bothers him is the fate of his daughter, now 15. “After 13 years in jail and still waiting for a confirmation of my sente­nce, I do feel I could have pardoned them; my daughter is growing up and I am stuck in here,” he says resignedly.


By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

 

Dubious role of police exposed in custodial death of terror accused in Uttar Pradesh


Khalid Mujahid‘s tragic story is a litany of irreconcilable facts, right from the day he was arrested by the anti-terrorism Special Task Force of the UP Police in December 2007
Ajit Sahi

Ajit Sahie

FalseTerror1If we accept the official explanation for the death on 18 May of Khalid Mujahid, an under-trial prisoner in Uttar Pradesh accused of terrorism, then India may have just lost a superman. More likely, the police have made up facts and may soon be exposed.

According to the official explanation, Mujahid, 32, was taken ill at 3.40 pm in the eastern district of Barabanki and admitted to a government hospital where he was pronounced dead. This claim was made by none other than the district magistrate of Barabanki, S Minisati, when she visited the hospital. But Mujahid’s lawyer says he had minutes earlier been in another city 65 km away to attend the hearing in one of the terror cases in which he is an accused. “Mujahid left that courtroom at 3.30 pm,” says Randhir Singh Suman, his lawyer. “How did he cover 65 km in 10 minutes?”

Good question. But then, Mujahid’s tragic story is a litany of such irreconcilable facts right from the day he was arrested by the anti-terrorism Special Task Force of the Uttar Pradesh Police in December 2007. Indeed, the police have been thoroughly exposed as lying about him right from the beginning. Yet, it confounds common sense and offends judicial propriety that successive judges not only did not throw out the case against Mujahid as wholly spurious but also refused to grant him bail that he deserved.

Worse, a trial judge ignored his repeated pleas, including written, that the policemen that ferried him between the prison and the court had explicitly threatened to kill him in an “encounter”, a euphemism for extrajudicial killings by the police. Two months ago, a second lawyer who represented Mujahid in another terror case being prosecuted in Lucknow, Mohammad Shoib, told the state’s jail minister that the several Muslim youths, including Mujahid, being tried for terrorism faced threats to their lives. Shoib was also among the last to see Mujahid alive. “We were together in the court until 3.20 pm,” he says. “Ten minutes later, I saw the police van carrying him leave the court premises.”

And now Mujahid is dead. Here is how the state, its police and the judiciary combined to first frame him and then deny him justice.

On 22 December 2007 police announced the arrest of two “terrorists” from a location 20 km east of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. They were apprehended, police said, from a railway station in the town of Barabanki that is a satellite of the capital. One of the two arrested men was Mujahid, a madrassa teacher in Jaunpur district, 250 km east of Lucknow. The other was Tariq Kasmi, a practitioner of the Unani medicine system in the district of Azamgarh, which is adjacent to Jaunpur.

The police claimed that Mujahid and Kasmi were responsible for simultaneous bombings in the district courts of Lucknow and Faizabad, which is 120 km east of the capital, on 22 November 2007. They said the two men had been arrested with explosives. Subsequently, the two were implicated in three different cases: one each in Lucknow and Faizabad for the bombings, and one in Barabanki for carrying explosives. They were charged with sedition and waging war against the state, both colonial era constructs, as also under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Explosives Act.

Instantly, Mujahid’s family members and well-wishers as well as human rights activists jumped in and demolished the police story. They claimed Mujahid was arrested in broad daylight from a crowded market six days previously, on 16 December 2007. His arrest had sparked protests in his town, Madiyahu, in Jaunpur district. Newspapers had reported both. Local police, civil officials and even the courts were given representations against his arrest. Yet, a judicial magistrate bought the police version that it arrested Mujahid and Kasmi from Barabanki railway station on 22 December 2007.

Could this be dismissed as partisan bickering? If yes, then consider this. In response to a plea filed under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the police station in Mujahid’s township, too, acknowledged that he had been arrested from the market near his house on 16 December 2007. This evidence directly contradicted what the police had told the Barabanki magistrate, before whom the two men had been presented and who had remanded them to a police custody. Mujahid quickly sought to file the RTI reply with various trial courts in Barabanki, Lucknow and Faizabad and press for justice.

But the courts told him that they can’t accept the RTI document until the prosecution had finished its arguments. That was in 2009. It is 2013 now and the prosecution hasn’t yet finished its arguments. So the defence lawyers decided to try their luck with the high court to at least get him bail. They believed that the discordance in the two versions of police should make it an open-and-shut case in their favour. But the High Court said he was accused of a “heinous crime” and could not be bailed.

In fact, eyebrows are also raised at the role of the then Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) of Barabanki, Anupama Gopal Nigam, who first remanded Mujahid (and Kasmi) in police custody. As per the procedure, the police needed to file an application before the CJM informing of the arrests of the two men and then asking the magistrate to come down to the prison to hear Mujahid and Kasmi’s remand plea because they did not want to bring them to the court for security reasons. “But no such document exists in the court records,” Mujahid’s lawyer, Suman, told TEHELKA from Barabanki. “Did the CJM go to the jail on her own?”

There is more. Suman cross-examined a police officer named Dayaram Saroj when the prosecution called him to depose. As the investigating officer in the case, Saroj should have made that formal request before the CJM. On being cross-examined, Saroj claimed that he himself had handed such an application to the CJM when she visited the prison after the arrests. But in response to an RTI application, prison authorities told Mujahid’s family that Saroj did not visit the prison that day. “This is a serious lapse,” Suman said.

On 19 May, Mujahid’s uncle, Zahir Alam Falahi, filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the Barabanki police alleging that Mujahid had been murdered as a result of a conspiracy. The FIR directly named a total of 42 officers, including a former director-general of police, the highest-ranking police officer in the state, as responsible for it. The question is: why would these police officers want to eliminate Mujahid?

The answer ironically lies in the first real spark of hope for Mujahid. After sustained pressure from human rights groups and various organisations of the Muslims, UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s government moved the local court in Barabanki on 3 May 2013 seeking to withdraw its charges against Mujahid and Kasmi. A week later, Additional Sessions Judge Kalpana Mishra of Barabanki rejected the state’s request on a plea from some local lawyers. “These lawyers are from the RSS,” says Suman, referring to the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “She heard them in her chamber and passed the order without the defence being present.”

But the battle may already be tilting in favour of the accused. For three years, a rights platform named Rihaee Manch has vigorously exposed police falsehoods in cases of terrorism in UP and campaigned to seek the release of the accused. The issue picked up steam last year when leading political figures such as Prakash Karat of the CPM, AB Bardhan of the CPI, Bihar politicians Lalu Prasad Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan, and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar came together and demanded an end to what they called the politics of terror against Muslims.

In 2008, then UP Chief Minister Mayawati had asked retired district judge RD Nimesh to probe the allegation that the police had illegally arrested the two men. He finally submitted his report last August. Although Chief Minister Yadav’s government has stonewalled the demands to release that report, it is widely believed that the commission has damned the police for arresting Mujahid and Kasmi and ruled their arrest as illegal.

“The police officers involved in Mujahid’s illegal arrest are obviously worried,” Shahnawaz Hussain, an activist with Rihaee Manch, told TEHELKA over phone from Jaunpur where he had gone to attend Mujahid’s funeral. “Had Mujahid lived, he would have been a prime witness in the case against them and they couldn’t afford that.”

The defence lawyers and rights activists are now worried for the safety of the remaining accused, who include Kasmi and two Kashmiri men, Sajjadur Rahman and Akhtar who were arrested from Jammu and Kashmir on 22 December 2007 and handed over to UP Police a week later. Strangely, the Jammu and Kashmir Police dropped the original charges on which it had arrested the two men before turning them over to UP Police.

The next hearing in the original case in Barabanki will be held on 31 May 2013. The defence lawyers say they would move the court to ensure that the lives of the other accused are not endangered. “Ironically though, greater security would mean a greater threat to their lives as it is the police who want them eliminated,” Suman said.

 

Order CBI enquiry into the Custodial Killing of Khalid Mujahid


Arrest the guilty Police Officers without delay

Khalid Mujahid, proclaimed by the police as one of the executors of the serial blasts that rocked UP courts in November 2007, died in police custody yesterday (18th May 2013). This young man, with no past medical record, the police claim died of sudden medical complications, on his way back to Lucknow prison, having made his appearance in court in Barabanki in connection with the serial blasts case. In 2011, a report, Torture in India, had documented how custodial killings were rampantly passed off as sudden medical complications and natural deaths (ACHR, p. 8).

Foul Play Obvious:

–       The DIG, Faizabad, Dharmendra Singh Yadav, first announced that his death had been caused by ‘heat wave’ and then the story quickly changed to ‘heart attack’.

–       His lawyer, Md. Shoaib, who met Khalid in the court, and in fact was with him till 3 in the afternoon, had found him to be normal, healthy and in high spirits. Eyewitnesses who saw the body before it was sent for autopsy found signs of bleeding from his mouth and ear.

–       Moreover, Advocate Md. Shoaib has pointed out that whilst he was wearing a kurta pyajama in the court appearance earlier in the day, the dead body wore lowers and T-shirt, clearly indicating foul play.

–       Why was the inquest conducted in such a hurried manner without the presence of Mujahid’s family and lawyer? Indeed, had it not been for the large public mobilization, the police and local administration were planning to conduct the autopsy quickly and secretively.

It may be recalled that while the UP STF had claimed to have arrested Mujahid and Qasmi from the Lucknow Charbagh railway station 22 December 2007, the two has actually been picked up days before in full public view, triggering fears of abduction. There had been demonstrations at the local administration demanding for their release as well as filing of a missing persons complaint before the sensational press conference by the STF announcing their arrests.

The long struggle by the democratic forces in UP against the blatant framing of Khalid Mujahid and Tariq Qasmi in the serial court blasts case, which led to the institution of R.D. Nimesh Commission, and the subsequent dismissal of the police claims about the timing and place of arrest of Mujahid and Qasmi, had made the police establishment in UP very nervous. It was obvious that the public pressure was not simply to release the duo but also to seek the prosecution of those policemen, then in the STF, who had falsely framed them.

In these circumstances the ‘heart attack’ theory looks implausible and a brazen attempt to hide a blatant case of custodial killing.

We reject the UP Chief Minister’s announcement of a High powered enquiry committee packed with senior bureaucrats and high ranking UP police officers. We demand that:

1)   Khalid Mujahid’s death be treated as a case of custodial killing and a case of murder be booked against those police officers escorting him;

2)   Those policemen named in the FIR filed by Khalid Mujahid’s family in the early hours today, should be arrested without delay

3)   A CBI enquiry be ordered into the incident;

4)   The post mortem report and the videography of the postmortem be made public;

5)   The Chief Minister should assure the safety and protection of Tariq Qasmi and other accused in the case;

6)   The Chief Minister should immediately order compensation to the family of Khalid Mujahid.

Sd/-

Teesta Setalavad (activist, Mumbai); Shabnam Hashmi (ANHAD), Kavita Srivastava (PUCL); Ahmed Sohaib (JTSA); Mansi Sharma (activist, Delhi); Mahtab Alam (activist, Delhi); Manisha Sethi (JTSA), Kamayani Bali Mahbaal, Human righst activist , Mumbai

 

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