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Monday, April 12, 2021

Explained: Sachin Waze and the alleged Khwaja Yunus custodial death case

Sachin Waze, who was arrested on March 13 by NIA, had been booked in 2004 for the alleged custodial death of 27-year old engineer Khwaja Yunus. Where does this 17-year-old case stand now?

Written by Sadaf Modak , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: March 17, 2021 12:54:00 pm
sachin vaze, Khwaja YunusAccording to the testimony of one of the arrested men, a doctor, police were interrogating them, and had tortured Khwaja Yunus so brutally that he vomited blood. Arrested cop Sachin Vaze (left) and Yunus.

Sachin Waze, the Assistant Police Inspector of Mumbai Police who was arrested on Saturday (March 13) by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), had been booked in 2004 for the alleged custodial death of 27-year old engineer Khwaja Yunus. Where does this 17-year-old case stand now?

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What is the Khwaja Yunus case?

On December 2, 2002, a bomb blast had taken place in Ghatkopar in Mumbai. The Mumbai Police arrested four men and charged them under the now repealed Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act.

Among the four arrested men was Khwaja Yunus, a software engineer who then worked in Dubai, and had come on holiday to meet his family. Three of the four men were subsequently acquitted of all charges by a special court. But Yunus, who was arrested on December 25, 2002, was last seen alive at Ghatkopar police station on January 6, 2003.

According to the testimony of one of the arrested men, a doctor, police were interrogating them, and had tortured Yunus so brutally that he vomited blood. The witnesses to the police assault alleged that Yunus had died in custody due to the torture.

The police interrogators had a different story. They claimed that Yunus had fled from their custody while he was being taken to Aurangabad as part of the investigation. According to the police version, the police vehicle had fallen into a gorge after being involved in an accident, and Yunus had taken the opportunity to escape.

Sachin Waze was part of the police team that claimed to have been ferrying Yunus.

An FIR was filed in the matter of Yunus’s disappearance. Yunus’s father filed a habeas corpus petition before the Bombay High Court and, relying on statements of those who said they had seen Yunus being tortured, sought an investigation.

Based on the court’s order, the Crime Investigation Department (CID) took over the probe, and concluded that Waze had filed a “false and malicious” complaint against Yunus, claiming that he had escaped.

The CID arrested Waze and three constables on charges including murder and destruction of evidence. The men were released on bail in 2004.

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What is the case against the four policemen?

The CID completed its probe in the case in 2006. The state government sanctioned their prosecution in 2007.

The FIR filed against Yunus accusing him of escaping from custody was closed after the CID filed a chargesheet stating that he had been killed in custody.

The four men, Waze and Constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai, and Rajaram Nikam, were charged under Sections 302 (murder) and 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code.

In 2012, the Bombay High Court granted a compensation of Rs 17 lakh to Yunus’s family, noting that he was a “qualified and proficient engineer” who would have earned around Rs 10 crore spread over 34 years taking into account his salary and his age of retirement at 60.

The High Court, however, rejected the family’s plea seeking to name seven other police officials as accused who were alleged to have assaulted Yunus, leading to his death. An appeal by his family against this order is pending before the Supreme Court.

What is the status of the case in the trial court?

The trial in the case was assigned to a fast-track court for speedy disposal, but it has progressed slowly.

The case commenced only in 2017, with the first witness deposing on May 2 that year. On that same day, however, the case was adjourned after the accused sought compliance of a previous order about the case diary being submitted to the court.

In August, the court warned the accused against filing such applications without verifying, after it was found that the case diary had been submitted back in 2012.

In January 2018, the witness continued with his deposition, and told the court that he had seen four men assault Yunus. These men were not the ones who had been booked for ferrying Yunus and filing a false FIR, and who were already on trial.

Based on this testimony, special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar filed an application seeking to add the four policemen to the list of the four already standing trial.

In April 2018, the state government ordered the removal of the prosecutor, withdrawing his appointment with immediate effect. Since then, the case has been at a standstill.

Yunus’s mother has filed an application before the High Court, seeking the reappointment of Mirajkar. This plea is pending.

The trial was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown last year. The application made before the trial court to make four additional policemen accused has been kept in abeyance pending a Supreme Court hearing.

Last month, the trial court issued non-bailable warrants against the four accused already standing trial, including Waze, noting that they had not appeared in court for the last few hearings since September.

After the men appeared before the court in the second half of the hearing, the warrants were cancelled. The trial court adjourned the hearing to March 20, stating that the accused needed to remain present for all hearings and sought a CID official to remain present to inform the court about the pending writ petitions before the High Court and Supreme Court.

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