If 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.