Five Muslims accused of waging war against India acquitted of all charges after 17 years, but they may never walk free

Written by Amit Kumar | Published on: April 5, 2018
Anees Ahmed, Mohammed Ali, Mohammed Yunus, Sultan Ahmed and Ghyasuddin. All of these men are residents of Gohalpur. Between September 27 and October 1, 2001, they attended a pre-Muharram meeting at a place called Beni Singh ki Tillaya near their village of Gohalpur. The meeting, conducted just before Muharram that year, was to advise women to wear Burqa/Niqaab during the following days and protect themselves. What followed was a religious congregation like millions conducted across the country. Among the people in the audience sat the five men mentioned above. Since the speakers used some references from the Quran and the Hadith, the pamphlets distributed among the crowd needed to be translated in Hindi/Urdu and the five men were among a number of volunteers who helped with the translation.

Image for representational purposes only
It is an act that has seen them stuck in jail since 2008. But to understand how and why this happened, we must go back to September 2001, especially September 27.

Even before the then NDA government decided to ban India’s largest Muslim student organisation, the Delhi Police had been investigating SIMI and its members. On September 27, 2001, finally, SIMI was banned by the Indian government and subsequently, several members of the organisation were picked up by police across the nation.

Seventeen years later, all of this seems mostly immaterial and irrelevant. While the Indian state machinery and the corporate media spent a considerable time telling Indians just how dangerous SIMI and its members were, the truth is that when it comes to convictions, the Indian government has precious little to offer.

On October 1, 2001, four days after SIMI had been banned, the Jabalpur Police got intel that some people had been organising anti-India meetings in the district, which lead to four policemen reaching the area and arresting these five individuals. In their charge sheet, the police alleged that these five were involved in anti-India chants including “Osama Bin Laden tum Sangharsh Karo” and “Taliban Zindabad” among others. The five were able to get bail despite the ‘serious charges’ within a month or two of the arrest and by the beginning of 2002, the five were out again. Interestingly, the Police also put the case in the cold storage and for the next eight years, the case never moved forward. The seven remained in that region and unable to apply for any government or private jobs, they stuck to small-time businesses like selling school supplies, stationery, etc.

It was not until July 2008, after the Ahmedabad serial blasts and the attempted attacks on Surat three days, that the Jabalpur Police decided to arrest the five men again and start the trial with regards to the 2001 case. In 2009, the trial finally started in the Jabalpur sessions court. The police claimed they had enough evidence including “Jihadi literature” and testimonies of people who were witnesses to the anti-India sloganeering. Nine years later, in March 2018, the five were found innocent by the court.

Moharram Ali, who was the lawyer of the five along with Mohammed Pervez, spoke at length with Ali says that the verdict might surprise some people, but this has become a regular factor now. “There have been five judgements on people who have been accused of being SIMI members and organising anti-India activities. Four cases are from Jabalpur (including this one) and one from Narsinghpur. And in all cases, the people have been announced innocent. It is amazing that for all the noise you hear about these cases, the truth is that they are all fabricated and have nothing to do with reality. In this case for example, let alone proving their guilt the Police could not even convince the judge that these five were even members of SIMI.”

Ali points out how the Police tried to fabricate evidence at every stage. “The people, who the Police claimed were witnesses, said they knew nothing…the judgment orders shows that the supposed witnesses said nothing that could convict the accused…the evidence they produced was actually seized in a totally unrelated case but the police nevertheless produced it in this case also.” The only disadvantage that the five men had was that they could not produce witnesses in their support, but that is understandable, says Ali. “When the police are gunning for these five, it is unlikely that common people will come to their support. Who can risk making the police angry, especially Muslims?” he asks.

Then, there was the pace of the trial. The police would take months to produce witnesses, sometimes not doing so for a full year. And all this time, the accused were not allowed to get bail. “We approached the local court where the case was going on, the High Court and even the Supreme Court. However, every bail application was rejected because the charges were ‘serious’”, says Ali. “Three of the men were in their early 30s when the trial began in 2009 and two were in early 40s. Their entire life has been wasted in front of their eyes and our government couldn’t care less,” he adds.

What is also visible is that for the Indian government, as long as people are arrested, the case is deemed to have been solved. “These five men were also booked in Gujarat for their alleged role in the Ahmedabad and Surat blasts. In fact, the Gujarat Police filed a total of 38 cases against these five people. So even though they are now not guilty in Jabalpur, there is no chance that they will walk out soon,” says Ali. In fact, Ali paints a very pessimistic picture about the future of these people. “In the Ahmedabad and Surat cases, the police have a list of over 3,000 witnesses out of which only 1,000 have been produced in a decade. Now tell me, when do you think will the trial end? 10 years? 20 years? Will it make a difference to these people?”

Regardless of what the future outcome of the Gujarat cases will be, it has become clear that the lies about SIMI stand exposed completely. If one goes beyond right-wing rhetoric and takes a long, detailed look at the court orders, it becomes clear that hundreds of Muslim men are languishing in jails for no reason. While people who kill Muslims and Dalits on camera in the name of cow roam free and are endorsed by political parties, many Muslim men might never know what it feels to be free again. And the truth is, the Indian government is happy to live with that thought.

Courtesy: Two Circles