Eleven years after he was arrested by the Gujarat Police on terror charges, a computer professional has returned home to Srinagar, with a Vadodara court holding that the prosecution had failed to prove the allegations against Bashir Ahmad Baba under the UAPA.
On June 19, the court upheld the defence argument that Ahmad was visiting Gujarat to attend a four-day camp on post-cancer care, so as to provide such services to patients in the Valley through the Kimaya Foundation, of which he was a part. The 43-year-old Ahmad, who was arrested on March 13, 2010, reached his home in Rainawari, Srinagar, on June 23.
The Gujarat ATS had arrested Ahmad from Anand, accusing him of being on a recce in the state to establish a terror network and to recruit Muslim youth angry over the 2002 riots for the Hizbul Mujahideen. It had accused Ahmad of being in touch with Hizbul chief Syed Salahuddin and one Bilal Ahmed Shera over phone and emails.
In an 87-page verdict, the 4th Additional Sessions Judge of Anand District Court S A Nakum said, “The charge against the accused that he stayed back in Gujarat and was found in Anand on March 13 and that he had received financial aid in order to set up a terror network in Gujarat has not been proven sufficiently, nor has there been any evidence presented to prove that he received such benefits or set up a terror module. The prosecution has clearly failed to prove the allegation against the accused. The prosecution has also failed to establish any evidence to prove that he was in touch with the wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commanders.”
Speaking on the phone from his Srinagar home, Ahmad said he had left for Gujarat expecting to be back after a 15-day training programme. He was the project head of a Gujarat-based NGO that helped children born with cleft lip.
Ahmad’s counsel Khalid Shaikh said a Srinagar doctor had recommended that he travel to the camp to get training for setting up post-cancer care services in the Valley. He was to return on a pre-booked return ticket dated February 28, 2010.
Instead, the ATS had picked Ahmad up from his hostel, paraded him before TV cameras and branded him a Hizbul militant.
Shaikh said, “The ATS contended that Ahmad had used the laptop of the doctor whose camp he was attending to send emails to his Hizbul handlers in Pakistan… They also said he was seen making suspicious phone calls and leaving the camp multiple times in the day on the pretext of having meals or offering prayers.”
Delighted to finally be back home, Ahmad says he never despaired. “I knew I was innocent and that’s why I never lost hope. I knew I would be released honorably one day.” While in jail, he got Master’s degrees in politics and public administration.
The first ones to receive him when he returned were his nephews and nieces, who had seen him for the first time. Recalls Ahmad: “How do I describe how I felt? It was a moment of immense joy and sadness simultaneously.”
The sadness was on account of the one face missing among those gathered to receive him: his father Ghulam Nabi Baba. For seven years, the senior Baba knocked at every door to secure his son’s release. He died of cancer in 2017.
Thanking his lawyers for fighting his case free of charge, Ahmad says he will always regret that his father hadn’t lived to see him come home. “He would regularly come to meet me at the jail,” he says.
With Ahmad in jail, his younger brother Nazir had to shoulder the responsibilities of the household. Their two sisters got married over the past 12 years, but Nazir, who works as a salesman, didn’t.
Now Ahmad hopes to change that.