Burden of proof

The UP government’s flip-flops on terror cases could undermine trust in due process for all,including minorities

Published: July 2, 2013 4:52 am

The UP government’s flip-flops on terror cases could undermine trust in due process for all,including minorities

After expansively promising,in its election manifesto,to get terror cases against innocent Muslims withdrawn,the Samajwadi Party government has suffered setbacks in court. As it sought to undo charges against those accused of planning and executing the 2007 serial blasts in Lucknow,Varanasi and Faizabad,the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court has stayed the process. The court was responding to a PIL that asked how the government could recall sanction for prosecution,if it rested on material evidence collected by investigating agencies. The bench has given the state government six weeks to respond,and referred the case to a larger bench. The government,though,was clearly unprepared to defend its action. Its lawyers failed to produce concrete evidence to counter the earlier case,or any new information. This letdown comes after a Barabanki court rejected the government’s plea earlier,citing shoddy paperwork because it hadn’t bothered to back up its case through an affidavit,merely asking for the case to be withdrawn “in the interest of communal harmony”.

Certainly,terror investigations in India could use stronger scrutiny. Social prejudice,institutional bias,the political and official stakes in finding quick answers and the special laws that operate in such cases,can be a dangerous combination. There is a strong perception among Muslims and others that the community has been targeted by police and ATS forces across states. In UP,the Nimesh Commission set up to probe the arrests of Khalid Mujahid and others found several inconsistencies in the police version. In 2006,Imran Kirmani was held for a “9/11-type plot” in Delhi,and freed by the court four years later,which commented on the “callous and inferior quality of investigation”. After the 2006 Mumbai attacks,when a large number of Muslims were arrested without proof,the ATS blamed SIMI while Mumbai Police crime branch pinned it on Indian Mujahideen. Nine Muslim men were jailed for the Malegaon blasts,and freed five years later,when they were revealed to be innocent. But the SP government’s solicitude is also communal bias,of a different sort.

Terror cases need impartial investigations,not political gestures. Withdrawing cases in the interest of communal harmony is as harmful as framing false cases,in that it strengthens cynicism about the state’s arbitrariness and bad faith. Trust in due process must be strengthened,for everyone,including minorities. That requires rigorous standards of evidence. The SP government would do better by its promise if it disproves the case against those it believes were unfairly targeted,exposes the flawed investigation and convinces the court.

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