Even as the Centre seeks the approval of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal for its decision to extend the ban on the Students Islamic Movement of India for the seventh time in a row, it has emerged that a majority of the cases registered against the outfit until the previous ban — used by the government to justify its proscription — ended in acquittals or the accused being discharged.
The information has come to light as a writ petition filed by two erstwhile SIMI members challenging the ban is scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court on Friday. The petition alleges that police forces use the bogey of SIMI as an excuse to target innocent Muslim youth.
A “background note” on SIMI submitted recently to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal by the Centre reveals that courts have decided 111 cases related to SIMI until the ban was reimposed two years back and alleged SIMI members were acquitted or discharged in 97 cases across the country.
The data does not include cases in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The largest number of acquittals — 52 in 93 cases — were in Maharashtra. The state also saw three convictions. There were 11 acquittals in 15 cases in Tamil Nadu while the government dropped charges in three cases. The last case resulted in conviction.
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In Rajasthan, alleged SIMI members were acquitted in nine of 17 cases. Of the 49 cases in Gujarat, only five cases were decided and alleged SIMI members were acquitted in four. In Karnataka, seven of 25 cases were decided and all ended in acquittal. In Andhra Pradesh, five of 23 cases were decided, with the accused being discharged in two and three cases ending in acquittal.
Of the 10 cases filed against alleged SIMI members in West Bengal, three cases ended in acquittal. In Delhi, the background note says 13 cases were registered until February 3, 2012. Of these, eight are pending trial, four ended in conviction and one case was closed as “untraced”.
The background note also reveals that only 17 new cases have been registered against alleged SIMI members across the country since the government extended its ban on February 3, 2012.
These include communal tension, beating up a person from another community, damaging the car of a community leader after alleged defiling of a temple, assaulting a Buddhist monk, writing books that can allegedly cause communal disharmony, jail-break and attempted jail-break, fight between two groups of Muslims leading to a case of attempt to murder and a case of assault with a stone.
According to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) rules, 1968, the government has to provide a copy of the notification of the ban along with “the facts on which the grounds specified in the said notification are based” when it makes a reference to the tribunal. This background note submitted by the central government, however, is more of a chronological account of earlier bans on SIMI, a status report on the cases registered against alleged SIMI members before the February 2012 ban and fresh cases that are unrelated to SIMI.
One incident used to justify the seventh ban on SIMI is a hunger strike by law students in Pondicherry. But the note makes no mention of how the strike was linked to alleged activities of SIMI. The note alleges that SIMI is active in Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi. It claims the “presence of SIMI activities has also been noticed in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand”.
“Most of these fresh cases have nothing to do with SIMI,” advocate Ashok Agrwaal, who has challenged the ban on behalf of the two erstwhile SIMI members, said referring to the 17 new cases filed since February 2012. “There is a case of a fight between two groups of Muslims on some personal dispute and it has been attributed to SIMI.” He said there are no facts in the background note submitted by the government. “It is only narrative, opinion and conclusion, not fact.”