The first witness in the alleged custodial death case of software engineer Khwaja Yunus named four policemen who, he said on Wednesday, assaulted Yunus. The prosecution told a sessions court that it would file an application seeking that these four, Praful Bhosale (retired as ACP Crime Branch) Rajaram Vhanmale (currently senior police inspector at Dindoshi police station), Ashok Khot (currently senior police inspector at Crime Branch Unit 5) and Hemant Desai (till recently a senior police inspector at the Local Arms unit), be added as accused in the case. The alleged custodial death took place in 2003.
Over 15 years after the death of Yunus, who was arrested as an accused in the Ghatkopar 2002 blast case, the witness alleged that the 27-year-old was stripped and assaulted by police on January 6, 2003. The witness, an associate professor at a private medical college in Aurangabad, had been arrested along with Yunus and is among seven men who were acquitted in the case in 2005.
After his deposition, special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar submitted to the court that he would file an application seeking to add the four men as accused in the case as per provisions of Section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The application is likely to be made at the next hearing on February 8.
While the current case is against four policemen, namely then assistant inspector Sachin Vaze and police constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai and Rajaram Nikam, the four others named by the witness on Wednesday are among 14 policemen against whom the state CID filed a chargesheet in 2004. The state government had not granted sanction to prosecute 10 out of the 14 men named in the chargesheet.
In 2012, the Bombay High Court rejected the plea of Aasiya Begum, Yunus’s mother, against the state government’s refusal to sanction the prosecution of the 10 policemen. Her appeal against the order is currently pending before the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, the witness told the court that he was arrested on December 27, 2002. He said he was assaulted in custody as the police allegedly wanted him to confess. On January 6, 2003, he was taken to the Ghatkopar unit of the Crime Branch, along with Yunus and Sheikh Zaheer. While Yunus was taken into a small room, the witness said the other two were made to wait outside. He told the court that after a while, he heard the sound of shouting and beating with a belt. Later, a policeman took him into the room where he allegedly saw Yunus sitting in his underwear with his hands tied behind him. He further said that he saw policemen sitting around Yunus and that constables were beating him with belts. He told the court that one policeman slapped Yunus on his face and that he was also assaulted on his chest and stomach. He added that he saw Yunus vomit blood. “I can tell the names of the policemen who assaulted Khwaja Yunus,” the witness said, naming the four policemen.
On Wednesday, after the prosecution examined the witness, advocates for the accused sought an adjournment to cross-examine him later. Judge V S Padalkar allowed the adjournment and directed the accused to pay Rs 2,500 to the witness as he had travelled from Aurangabad to Mumbai to depose.
On a petition filed by Yunus’ father, who claimed that it was a case of custodial death, the CID was directed to investigate the case in 2004. The police had claimed that he had “disappeared” from custody on January 7, 2003.