Updated: March 9, 2021 2:42:04 pm
Over 19 years after they were arrested, the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Surat has acquitted all 127 persons accused of “promoting a banned organisation”, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in 2001.
What is the 2001 case?
On December 28, 2001, over two months after the 9/11 attack, the Surat city police arrested 127 people from 10 different states, gathered at the Rajeshree Hall in Athwa Lines area of the city under the banner of the All-India Minority Education Board. They were arrested under Sections 3 (declaration of an association as unlawful), 10 (punishment for being member of an unlawful association), 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) and 15 (terrorist act) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967, which was then not as stringent a law as its amended version is now.
Police seized from them blank enrolment forms for the SIMI that had been banned by the union government in September that year, verses in praise of Osama Bin Laden of Al-Qaeda, handouts in Urdu and Arabic and mobile phones. The two-day seminar that began on December 28 was to discuss “Educational Rights and Constitutional guidance.”
“We conducted the raids around midnight and found some of them sleeping. Some had mobile phones which were rare those days, and some even chewed up the SIM cards (to destroy evidence),” Roushan told The Indian Express. He said that on verification, it was found that the organisation, said to be registered in Delhi, did not exist. This was the biggest case made out against SIMI then.
Who were the big names among the 123 booked?
Police picked up 123 persons from the spot. According to Roushan, the gathering included “two vice-chancellors from Rajasthan, 4-5 professors, doctors, engineers, and one retired judge”.
The hall was booked by Alif Majid Mansuri, brother of Sajid Mansuri who was associated with SIMI. Other people gathered included government officers, teachers and religious scholars among others. Those from SIMI included its Gujarat zone president Arif Kagzi, former SIMI presidents of Ahmedabad Asif Shaikh and Sohel Patel, and former Ansar group leader Rafik Deedar.
Those acquitted include 44 people from Maharashtra, 25 from Gujarat, 13 from Madhya Pradesh, 11 from Karnataka, 10 from Uttar Pradesh, nine from Rajasthan, four each from West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, two from Bihar and one from Chhattisgarh. Of these, 111 were present as the chief judicial magistrate pronounced the order in Surat. Seven have died and the case against them was abated, and five are in jail for other offences, while four others are bedridden.
What did the court say?
The court acquitted all 127 accused holding them “not guilty” of the charges under various sections of the UAPA and ordered their release. Giving them the benefit of doubt, the court observed, “The arguments of the prosecution about the gathering of the people, to give momentum to the SIMI activities, is not reliable or satisfactory, which leads to many doubts in the case. As a result of which the accused can be given benefit of doubt”.
The accused had in their statements under CrPC Section 313 mentioned that they are not members of SIMI. They came to attend the educational seminar at Surat organised by the All India Minorities Education Board. The court observed that the prosecution had failed to prove that the accused were members of SIMI.
The link with 2008 serial blast case
Sajid Mansuri, who was evading arrest, was captured in August 2008 and charged for his alleged involvement in the Ahmedabad serial bombings on July 26, 2008, which killed 56 persons. The bombings were alleged to have been carried out by Indian Mujahideen. Then Bharuch District Superintendent of Police Subhash Trivedi said Mansuri had gone underground to evade arrest after his name cropped up during investigations in the 2001 case and was finally arrested by the Ahmedabad police.
Incumbent chief of the Gujarat police force, DGP Ashish Bhatia who was joint commissioner in Surat at that time and later was involved in the serial blast investigations says, “They (the alleged SIMI members) continued to hold camps in Halol in Gujarat, Kerala and other places as we found in the investigations in the blast case”.
Why the prolonged trial
According to IGP Roushan, this was a huge case for the Surat police to handle. “We got a remand of 14 days in the very beginning, and then the issue was of where to keep them. So we used the lock-ups of all the ten police stations of Surat city to keep them on remand,” he said.
The case was registered for trial in 2002, and the hearing in the case completed in 2015, pending verdict. The government first appointed advocate Akhil Desai from Ahmedabad as special prosecutor in this case. The accused got bail from the Gujarat High Court, after almost one year.
Later the government appointed Jagrupsinh Rajput as public prosecutor. He conducted the case hearing and later on he resigned to contest the local Assembly election from Ahmedabad on a BJP ticket and won in 2012. Advocate Nayan Sukhadwala, District Government Pleader was then appointed to carry out proceedings of the case.
Sources told this paper that five judges were also transferred in the mean time and the entire case went on for 19 years and nine months. said subsequently five judges were transferred, sources in Surat district court, said.
All the acquitted in this case are out on bail, except five who are in jails in Gujarat. Government Pleader Sukhadwala said it is not yet decided whether the order of acquittal will be challenged in the Gujarat High Court.
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