The NIA’s argument — that the 13 men pleaded guilty to being part of an LeT recruitment plot was a sign of repentance — played a key role in the Bengaluru special terrorism court’s decision to award lenient punishments.
The court Friday sentenced the men to five years in prison in connection with the 2012 terrorism plot as against a maximum of 10 years in jail they would have faced for the charges brought against them. Since 12 of the 13 have been in prison since 2012, they are eligible for release in 2017. One of them, who was arrested in 2013, will be eligible for release in 2018.
The NIA’s tacit support for a leniency plea made by the men, the court’s view that they — 11 of the 13 are well-educated — want to return to mainstream, and the fact that they did not carry out any act of terrorism played a key role in the verdict.
“The learned Public Prosecutor, NIA, submitted that the accused have voluntarily come forward to plead their guilt and thereby they have shown their repentance for their acts. He has submitted that such a move by the accused is a step towards reconnecting to the society,’’ the court has observed.
The 13 men, who pleaded not guilty when the trial started two years ago, decided to plead guilty out of fear of a protracted trial. “The accused have explained their conduct by contending that on earlier occasion they had not properly understood the charges framed against them. The probability of such contention cannot be ruled out,’’ the court observed.
“It seems the accused have realised their mistakes and repent for their deeds… In view of the same, this Court opines that there is necessity of showing some leniency while imposing punishment… but at the same time it should not send a wrong message to the society,’’ judge B Muralidhara Pai observed in the order.
The court said there had been no indication of the men being coerced against their will into pleading guilty. It said they may have been sucked into the terror plot due to their foolishness and “on account of misguidance and lack of maturity of mind’’.