A SPECIAL court on Friday acquitted Arshi Qureshi, who has been behind bars since 2016 following allegations that he had radicalised youngsters to join the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation. Special Judge A M Patil pronounced the judgment and informed 52-year-old Qureshi that he was being cleared of all charges after scrutiny of evidence before the court. He was acquitted of charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act related to abetting, inciting commission of unlawful activity and lending support to a terrorist organisation.
Qureshi was booked in 2016 when he was working as the guest relations manager at the Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) founded by controversial televangelist Zakir Naik. Qureshi was arrested on the complaint received by Mumbai police by Mumbai-based Abdul that his son, Ashfak Majeed, was indoctrinated by him through his work at IRF. Ashfak, his wife, along with their daughter and other youngsters from Kerala, were alleged to have left the country to join IS. It was alleged that they had come in touch with Qureshi and were influenced to join the terror group.
The case against Qureshi was among the offences cited by the Central government while imposing a ban on IRF in 2016.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe from the Mumbai police and filed a chargesheet against Qureshi in 2017. At that time, two others arrested along with Qureshi were dropped as accused with the NIA stating that there was not enough evidence against them.
Qureshi’s lawyers had submitted that there was no evidence to show that he had, in any manner, incited the youth to join the terrorist organisation. It was submitted that neither was he a member nor sympathiser of the organisation. “Nothing on record even to suggest that at any point of time arranged/encouraged/addressed any meeting for propagation of any unlawful activity or to support any cause or purpose of any banned organisation,” his lawyers T W Pathan, I A Khan and Faizan Qureshi had submitted during the final arguments before the court.
It was also submitted by them that there were no documents produced on record by the NIA to ratify that the missing youngsters had joined any banned organisation, nor were they named as accused in the case.
“I am very happy, I just want to be back with my family now,” Qureshi said after the pronouncement of the verdict on Friday. Qureshi, who returned to India after studying hotel and business management in the US, was working with the IRF as a guest relations manager for seven years. He said that after the six-year incarceration, his concern was in finding the means for earning a livelihood again. When asked if he had anything to say about the period spent in jail, Qureshi said that he had no complaints against anyone and was only happy to be acquitted.
During the trial, 57 witnesses were examined including Ashfak’s parents and other relatives of the Kerala-based youth, who were alleged to have joined IS. Abdul, based on whose complaint Qureshi was arrested, did not support the NIA’s case. During his deposition in the court in 2019, Abdul said neither did he know anything about IRF nor Qureshi. He told the court that his son was missing since 2016 but was not aware where he and others had gone. He also told the court that the Mumbai police had written a complaint and he was asked to sign it, adding he did not know what was written in it.
During the final arguments, the NIA, through special public prosecutor Sunil Gonsalves, had submitted that other witnesses including the brother of one of the women who went missing had pointed to Qureshi’s role in influencing them and in converting people to Islam and hence there was evidence to convict him. An NIA official said that the detailed judgment will be studied when made available and a decision will be taken on appealing the acquittal before the Bombay High Court.
Qureshi also faces a case filed in Kerala in 2016 resulting from a complaint filed by one of the missing youth’s kin. He was granted bail by the local court and no chargesheet was filed against him. His lawyers had claimed that the case resulted out of the same offence and hence, he cannot be made an accused twice.