Alongside the noise over the arrest of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar, another man charged with sedition over a similar event has not got the same attention.
Professor S A R Geelani was arrested after he allegedly organised an event at Press Club of India to mark the anniversary of the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Geelani, who holds a doctorate in Arabic and teaches at Zakir Hussain College in Delhi, has been questioning Afzal Guru’s hanging ever since Delhi police accused him of being involved in the 2001 Parliament attack and failed to win a conviction.
Geelani, a Kashmiri from Baramulla, was living with his wife and two children in Delhi when police accused him of being part of the 2001 conspiracy. The police case was limited to his relations with Afzal Guru and other accused from Kashmir. The trial court sentenced him to death on December 18, 2002. In October 2003, the high court acquitted him of all charges. In August 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal.
“I was arrested, tortured and put in solitary confinement. From the start I maintained that I was innocent and that the police were trying to frame me,’’ he said soon after his acquittal was upheld. “I am happy to be a free man but I do not think the acquittal of an innocent man is a cause for celebration. I think it is a time for reflection on why he was framed and sentenced to death without evidence… I am a teacher by profession and it is the job of a teacher to always reflect on his experience and draw the right lessons from his experience, without anger or bitterness.”
When Afzal was hanged in Tihar, Geelani called the UPA government’s decision a “cruel and politically motivated gimmick” and said the “police and investigative agencies fabricated evidence against Afzal and the whole system is biased and he had faced the heat of this bias”. He frequently raised questions about the Parliament attack case. “I have had an opportunity to closely see the workings of the courts and the police. What is most disturbing is that when the police violate procedures and even guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court, the trial is held legal,’’ he said. “For instance, the police forged my arrest memo and told lies on oath about my arrest. I was denied access to a lawyer, and almost all safeguards with regard to arrests and detention were flagrantly violated. Even my two small children were arrested and detained for several days.”
Geelani’s position on Kashmir has also been consistent. “The Kashmiri people’s movement for self-determination is not a reflection of the wishes of one individual, organisation or party,’’ he said in his statement after his acquittal. “Kashmiris want Indo-Pakistan friendship because without that there can be no real development of Kashmir. But the prerequisite to this is that both India and Pakistan take into account the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”
After his acquittal, Geelani filed an affidavit to the high court in 2004 saying he was still being shadowed by police and intelligence . “He said he feared he might be killed in a fake encounter as several attempts were made on his life when he was in jail,” Geelani’s brother Bismillah said. A group that had campaigned for his acquittal, All India Defence Committee for SAR Geelani, approached National Human Rights Commission; no investigation ordered to ascertain if there was indeed a threat to his life.
On Feberuary 8, 2005, Geelani was shot at and seriously injured outside the house of his lawyer Nadita Haksar. “The tree bullets are still inside his body,’’ Bismillah said. “He had given an interview saying he feared for his life and police and intelligence men were shadowing him. The newspaper didn’t run it as they thought he was paranoid. The published it only after he was grievously hurt.”
Geelani accused the Delhi police of masterminding the attack — an allegation police denied. Geelani said the assailants wouldn’t have located his whereabouts unless his phone had been tapped, because he had only told lawyer Haksar over phone about it. The Delhi police denied having put him under surveillance after his acquittal.
Geelani had also accused the police of harassing his family after he was attacked. The police at the time had “taken away Geelani’s car, PAN card and bank documents. They had also seized the computer used by his children” as part of their probe into the attempt on his life.
“The Delhi police had picked up two Kashmiris — Ahsan Untoo and Ghulam Nabi Najar — and were trying to frame them in the case. But it didn’t work,’’ Bismillah said.
Bismillah has written a book, Manufacturing Terrorism: Kashmiri encounters with the Media and Law, where he tells his brother’s story.
The police had alleged Geelani had gone to Srinagar where he had spoken against Jaish-e-Mohammad, which it said was responsible for the attempt on his life.
Seven years later, the National Investigation Agency said that during its investigation into the Samjhauta Express bombing, suspect Rajender Choudhary had “confessed” that he and his accomplice Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid bombings accused Lokesh Sharma had fired on Geelani. Choudhary allegedly told the NIA that the attack was carried out on the instructions of RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi, since murdered, and that the attackers had started planning it ever since Geelani was acquitted in 2003. The NIA had claimed that because the attack on Geelani’s life was being probed by Delhi police, it shared the information with them. The Delhi police didn’t respond to queries from The Indian Express regarding the progress in this probe.
Regarding the latest sedition charges slapped on Geelani, brother Bismillah said that “it is nothing but a vicious witch hunt”. “They have no case at all,’’ Bismillah said. “When my brother was arrested in 2001, the Delhi police had projected him as the mastermind behind the Parliament attack. He has suffered. He has always spoken about the injustice that was done to Afzal,’’ he said.
“The day Afzal was hanged, the police detained him for the entire day because he wanted to protest. There is nothing new about these events where people talk and question Afzal’s hanging. It has happened every year,’’ Bismillah added.
“There weren’t any sedition charges levelled earlier. This time they are using this to settle scores. It is a witch hunt and nothing more.”