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Thursday, February 25, 2021

HC gives Areeb Majeed bail, says no end in sight of IS trial

However, the Bench set aside the findings of the Special Court on the merits of the case, holding the same as "unsustainable". The Special Court had held that the prosecution had not succeeded in proving the prima facie case against Majeed at that stage.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: February 24, 2021 1:58:59 am
Areeb Majeed, suspected to have links with the Islamic State, taken to court by police personnel in 2014. (Express Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar, File)

OVER six years after his arrest on charges of travelling to Iraq and Syria to join terrorist organisation Islamic State, Kalyan man Areeb Majeed was granted bail by the Bombay High Court on Tuesday. Noting that the right to fair and speedy trial was recognised under Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution, the court held that the same was applicable to Majeed, given that “there was no likelihood of the trial being completed within a reasonable time”.

The High Court upheld the bail granted by the Special NIA Court nearly a year ago, on March 17, 2020, “on the ground of the accused having already undergone incarceration for more than six years” and the likelihood of the trial being delayed. Saying “this is a question of liberty”, the Division Bench of Justices S S Shinde and Manish Pitale said, “The courts are required to perform a balancing act, so as to ensure that a golden mean is reached between the rights of the individual and those of the society at large.”

A civil engineering student when he went missing in May 2014, Majeed was among the first group of youths alleged to have left India to join the IS.

Pending completion of formalities, he was not released on Tuesday.

Rejecting the NIA’s appeal, the Bench held, “He (Majeed) comes from an educated family and if stringent conditions are imposed upon him, with an undertaking to cooperate with the trial proceedings… his release on bail may not be harmful to the society at large and it would not adversely affect the trial proceedings before the NIA Court.” It also rejected the NIA’s request for stay on the operation of the judgment.

However, the Bench set aside the findings of the Special Court on the merits of the case, holding the same as “unsustainable”. The Special Court had held that the prosecution had not succeeded in proving the prima facie case against Majeed at that stage.

The High Court referred to a Supreme Court ruling saying stringent bail provisions as per Section 43D (5) of the UAPA would “melt down” with “no likelihood of the trial being completed in reasonable time and period of incarceration already exceeding substantial part of the prescribed sentence”.

In light of this, the Bench observed, “Looking to the pace at which about 51 witnesses have been examined, which took more than five years for the NIA Court, there is clearly no likelihood of the trial (against Majeed) being completed within a reasonable time in the near future.”

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Anil Singh, who represented the NIA, said while Majeed had been arrested when he returned to India on his own, on November 29, 2014, he had done so with “ulterior motives”. The NIA claimed he had come back “with an intention to carry out terrorist acts in India, including blowing up the Police Headquarters in Mumbai”.

The conditions for Majeed’s bail, granted on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and sureties, include that he report to the nearest police station on a regular basis and to the NIA officer concerned once a week, stay with his family in Kalyan on the outskirts of Mumbai, not make any statements regarding proceedings pending before the Special Court, and surrender his passport if he has one. Warning him against any activity similar to the allegations against him, the Bench said, “He shall not try to establish communication with (the) co-accused or any other person involved directly or indirectly in similar activities or make any international call to any person indulging in similar activities as alleged against him, through any mode of communication.”

Majeed was among from youths from Kalyan who had joined a group of pilgrims travelling to Iraq in May 2014, the others being Aman Tandel, Fahad Sheikh and Saheem Tanki. The four had split from the group and made their way to Syria and joined the IS.

Majeed, who has been arguing his own case, has submitted that he was just 21 at the time and had got “carried away” and “committed a serious mistake”, but that the accusations by the NIA of his involvement in terrorist activities were “hard to digest”. Majeed argued on February 4 that the entire case against him was cooked up by the NIA and it had no material to support the allegations. He has also claimed that his return was arranged and facilitated by high-ranking Central government officials in coordination with the NIA.

Tandel, Sheikh and Tanki were never found.

Reacting to Tuesday’s order of the High Court, Majeed’s father Dr Ejaz Majeed, an Unani medicine practitioner, said, “We are thankful to God’s grace for Areeb’s release and we are awaiting the formalities related to it to be completed.”

Soon after granting Majeed bail in March 2020, the Special Court had stayed the order on the NIA’s plea that it wanted to file an appeal in the High Court. The bail has been stayed since then.

At a hearing on February 4, the High Court had observed that with his actions, Majeed had created numerous problems for himself and his family.

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