Carrying texts to support his case for all the Acts under which he had been convicted just over 24 hours ago, Saquib Nachan entered the witness box in the Special Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) court at 12.30 pm Wednesday. He knew he had just one chance to plead for a light sentence, and he took it seriously: speaking for half an hour at a stretch, and claiming that the “intention, action and consequence” described to define an act of terror in Section 3 of the POTA was absent in his case.
On Wednesday, 56-year-old Nachan, who has been arguing his own case since the trial began, tried to advance arguments on the merits of the now-repealed POTA. The court had on Tuesday found six men guilty of possessing illegal weapons and convicted four on terror charges in the December 2002-March 2003 Mumbai serial blasts case. Three accused, however, were acquitted of all charges more than 13 years after the blasts killed 12 people and injured 144 others at Mumbai Central railway station, a market in Vile Parle and the compartment of a Karjat-bound local train.
Section 4 of POTA, Nachan argued, was relevant to his case. “In that section, a terrorist act is defined differently. Section 3 is negated in section 4, in which a terrorist act is just possessing a firearm illegally,” he told the court.
He also claimed that the punishment provided in Section 4 “is not as harsh or serious as Section 3”. Nachan also argued that there is no difference between Section 4 of POTA and Section 3 of the Indian Arms Act, both of which punish the possession of a firearm without a licence in a notified area. “I may be given parity with a person who is caught with a pistol in a notified area.
He requested a sentence of five years and leniency from the court as he hadn’t been found guilty of any other charges.
Addressing the court in English, Nachan told the court that he had surrendered willingly in 2003. “A bomb blaster will never come before court and surrender,” he said (sic).
He also said that he had suffered for 10 years and been behind bars for eight years before being granted bail. In the years that he had been away from his family he said, “In 2003 I was the father of two sons and one daughter. Now I am a grandfather.”
His sons too, he said, had found it difficult to find jobs as, “they were referred as sons of a terrorist in educational institutes”.
The terror tag also affected his father, Abdul Hamid Nachan, a noted community leader in Padgha village, the family’s ancestral home. Telling the court that it was his father who made him surrender, he said, “My father just asked me one question, ‘tum ne bomb blast kiya hai (did you commit the bomb blast) ?’. I said no. My father has faith in the judicial system. But when he was on his deathbed last month, he had guilt and told me that if I haven’t done the done, I would be okay.” While his business had collapsed, Nachan argued that the emotional loss caused by the jail stint was irreversible and irrevocable.
When their turn came to appeal to the judge, Hasib Mulla, Mohammed Kamil and Noor Mohammed Abdul Malik Ansari prayed for a minimum sentence as their families were dependent on them financially.
Anwari Ali Khan told the court that after his arrest his employment at at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune had been terminated and he had been looking for a job after being released from eight years in jail. A minimum sentence, he appealed to the court, would make it easier for him to find a job. Gulam Akbar Abdul Sattar Khotal, Farhaan Khot and Dr Wahid Ansari all pleaded that their family’s financial condition was very poor. Khotal added that his catering business has almost shut down due to his six-year-long incarceration, during which his son had also died in an accident.
With the exception of Nachan and Muzammil Ansari, all the other men made their final plea to the judge for no more than five minutes each and spoke in barely audible whispers. On Thursday, the court will hear arguments from the defence advocates for leniency to the accused before the prosecution makes its demand for a suitable punishment.
AT the time when Aatif Mulla was waiting for his turn to make his final plea for leniency, his two-year-old son was being ferried to a hospital for a fortnightly appointment to treat a life-threatening disease. The toddler, Mulla said, was first admitted in a hospital in August 2015. “He underwent a bone marrow transplant. But there is a threat to his life for at least two more years and he has to be taken to the hospital every fifteen days,” he pleaded.
The earliest to be released on bail for his role in the terror attacks, Mulla told the court that his family had suffered “intense trauma” during the three years that he was in jail. An MBA graduate who was employed with a multinational pharmaceutical company, Mulla requested that the judge take into consideration the three years he has served in jail. He ended his arguments claiming that during the ten years he has been out on bail, he has followed “each and every condition”.
Found guilty on 18 counts, Muzammil Ansari, the planter of the explosives, was the last of the convicts to address the judge on Wednesday. On two occasions while he entered his final plea, the man with the squeaky voice was told to speak up. He told the judge that he took over the responsibility of providing for his family at a young age while studying for a degree in mechanical engineering. He was the only one of the ten men to strongly protest his innocence. “I have been falsely implicated in this case. I respect the verdict of this court. During the course of my police custody, I was illegally detained and tortured. It was the most difficult period of my life.” Ansari also claimed that several witnesses had given false evidence against him. He also asked for an interim bail to live with his family and that his sentence be equated with the time he has served in jail. At this point, Ansari faltered and cast around for more points even as the judge asked him to take his time and take a seat if he needed to. “Mujhe yaad nahi aa raha (I can’t remember). I am suffering from a mental problem,” he told the court.