The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal led by Delhi High Court Judge Suresh Kait on Wednesday upheld the Centre’s ban on the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) for five years. Citing a recent speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the tribunal, however, suggested that the government may consider constitution of a special tribunal to look into cases where “mere suspicion is the basis for registration of a case and expedite (cases) to ensure only the guilty are punished and the innocent persons are released”.
The tribunal, constituted on February 27 to adjudicate on the Centre’s ban on SIMI — the seventh since September 2001, started its hearings on March 4. Its members travelled across the country, before concluding the hearings on July 27.
Confirming the Centre’s ban on SIMI, the tribunal said there is sufficient material to show that SIMI is active and its members are indulging in unlawful activities. It upheld the central government’s right to claim privilege and rely on secret material that was only made available to the tribunal. The party contesting the SIMI ban was not granted access to this material.
The tribunal also took into consideration the confessions of alleged SIMI members made before police officers or recorded while in police custody. Though such confessions are not admissible under the Evidence Act, the tribunal said it was not bound by the strict rules of evidence contained in the Evidence Act.
For the first time since the Centre banned SIMI in 2001, the tribunal upheld the locus of erstwhile members of SIMI to challenge the ban. The Centre’s position has been that only the members or office bearers of SIMI are eligible to challenge the ban, not erstwhile members. This led to a situation where the two erstwhile SIMI members challenging the ban were asked to say that the SIMI was still in existence and they were active members.
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Making several suggestions to the government, the tribunal cited a hearing in Bhopal, where Akhtar Sayeed Siddiqui, a 79-year-old retired businessman, told them that while the people who are guilty should be punished, those who are innocent should not be implicated in false cases and kept in custody for long.
Siddiqui deposed as a member of the public, and has no links with the SIMI.
The tribunal also pointed out that Modi, while addressing Parliament on July 24, said all pending cases against political leaders should be disposed of within a year.
In this regard, Justice Kait said in all cases where mere suspicion is the basis for registration of a case, the matter must be investigated expeditiously to ensure innocent people do not suffer long periods of incarceration. He said the Centre may consider constitution of a special tribunal to look into such cases and expedite their disposal at the earliest.
The tribunal said it had received a number of representations from people who said notices should not have been issued to them as they were not SIMI members, were not involved in any of its activities, and no case had been registered against them. The tribunal cited a hearing in Udaipur, where Zaheer Mohammad Pathan, Kaleem Mohammad Qazi and Mohammad Yasin Ali Khan appeared in person and filed affidavits.
According to the tribunal, after enquiry, SP Bhilwara said the notices were issued on the basis of information received from State Special Branch in 2010, and confirmed that these individuals were not involved and no case had been registered against them. “Therefore, notices issued to them were discharged,” the tribunal said.
It maintained that the notices are issued in a casual manner, without verification. The tribunal said such notices issued to innocent persons harm their reputation. “This is never the intention of the notice,’’ it said, adding that the central government should ensure that the state governments, after due verification, update their lists of SIMI activists and restrict issue of notices only to those individuals who are members or office bearers.