Less than six months after his release from prison on bail, Mohammad Irfan Gaus is back in jail. A day after the Supreme Court stayed a Bombay High Court order granting him bail, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) placed the suspected Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) operative under arrest on Wednesday.
At the Bombay City Civil and Sessions Court on Wednesday afternoon, Gaus said he was shocked when he learnt of the SC order late Tuesday night, while he was on a train to Mumbai from his native place Nanded. Gaus is currently facing trial along with four other men — fellow Nanded natives Mohammed Muzammil Abdul Gani, Mohammed Sadique Mohammed Farooque, Mohammed Akram Mohammed Akbar and Mohammed Iliyas Mohammed Akbar — on charges of conspiring to carry out terror strikes in Nanded and Hyderabad, possessing arms and influencing young Muslims to take to violence.
After his arrest in August 2012, Gaus spent seven years behind bars before the HC granted him bail this July and allowed him to finally return to his family. However, neither Gaus nor his lawyers were aware that the NIA had moved the apex court against the HC’s decision, as they did not receive any notice to argue against the agency’s petition.
Gaus (32) said that he had planned to return home later on Wednesday after the day’s hearing concluded. The special court on Wednesday examined a scientist working at the Forensic Science Laboratory in Kalina regarding alleged incriminating materials found on a laptop belonging to the accused. Defence lawyer Wahab Khan also moved an application on Wednesday urging the court to close the examination of witnesses and expedite the trial if the NIA has no other witnesses to examine.
One last prosecution witness ? the 74th ? now remains to be examined on December 13. “I informed my family on Tuesday night after reading the SC’s order. Had I known sooner, I could at least have said a proper goodbye to them before leaving,” Gaus told The Indian Express.
With the SC also giving the NIA liberty to re-arrest Gaus, the 32-year-old had no option but to surrender before court. “As soon as I reached the court premises in the morning, NIA officers tried to arrest me, I refused to go along and told them I had come to surrender in court,” he claimed.
His lawyer, Sharif Shaikh, immediately submitted an application for surrender to the special NIA court. In it, Shaikh mentioned that the SC had passed its order without giving Gaus the opportunity to represent himself, which was against the principle of natural justice. The NIA’s Special Public Prosecutor, Prakash Shetty, informed the court that the agency intended to take Gaus back into its custody immediately. After considering both arguments, Judge Dinesh A Kothlikar informed the NIA to comply with the SC’s order.
Advocate Shahid Nadeem of the Jamiat Ulama-E-Maharashtra, which provides legal aid to Gaus, said that the NIA took objection to a portion of the surrender application in which Gaus claimed to have been cheated by the agency. “He meets NIA officials each time he attends court proceedings but none of them informed him about approaching the SC. We were required to strike out that portion from our application as the court also objected to our submission,” he said.
The lawyers will require a custody certificate from the jailor of the prison Gaus is sent to, before filing for bail at the SC.
By his own estimate, Gaus now faces another four-five months in jail as the court will record statements of the five undertrials before pronouncing its judgment. “It would have been six months for me at home on December 9. Cheezein pathri par aane lagi thi (Things had just started to return to being normal again). In the time that I was home, the situation at home had improved. My family wasn’t as tense as before and I had regained some of my health,” he said.