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Monday, January 24, 2022

Khwaja Yunus custodial death case: plea in Supreme Court, progress at trial court

Khwaja Yunus, a 27-year-old software engineer, was arrested in December 2002 in connection with the Ghatkopar blast case. He was last seen alive on January 6, 2003.

Written by Sadaf Modak , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: January 12, 2022 3:32:24 pm
Khwaja Yunus

The Supreme Court in a recent order directed the trial court in the Khwaja Yunus case to proceed with a plea to decide whether four more policemen can be added as accused for the alleged custodial death in 2003.

What is the plea the SC heard?

A trial is currently underway against four policemen on charges of murder and destruction of evidence for the alleged custodial death of Khwaja Yunus in 2003. Yunus, a 27-year-old engineer, was booked along with four others on suspicion that they were involved in the 2002 blast at Ghatkopar.

The three co-accused of Yunus were subsequently cleared of all charges. Yunus, however, was claimed to have escaped while being taken to Aurangabad for a probe. This claim was found to be false by the CID which filed a complaint against the four policemen escorting Yunus. His then co-accused also told a court that they had seen Yunus being brutally assaulted on January 6, 2003, the last day he was seen alive. They named four other policemen for the alleged assault but the state did not grant sanction to prosecute them.

Yunus’ mother Asiya Begum approached the Bombay High Court against the government’s decision. The court rejected her plea in 2012 to grant sanction against the four policemen, holding that the sanctioning authority’s decision to not allow prosecution of the four other policemen was correct.

Begum filed an appeal before the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order. It is still to be decided. Begum recently moved the apex court with an interim application for expeditious hearing of her main appeal pending since 2015.

Yunus’ mother Asiya Begum

What has been happening at the trial court?

The trial in the case began in 2018 against the four policemen who had claimed that they were escorting Yunus to Aurangabad and he had escaped en route. These men, currently undergoing trial, are dismissed cop Sachin Waze and three constables Rajendra Tiwari, Sunil Desai and Rajaram Nikam. The four men who were not granted sanction to prosecute are retired ACP Praful Bhosale, senior police inspectors Rajaram Vhanmane, Ashok Khot and Hemant Desai.

The first witness in the case while deposing in January 2018 testified that he had seen these four policemen assaulting Yunus in custody. He said that Yunus’ hands were tied behind him, he was beaten with belts on his stomach and chest and that he had seen Yunus vomit blood.

Based on this, the then special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar moved a plea stating that in the light of evidence that has come before the court through the witness, the four policemen can be summoned under section 319 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Power to proceed against other persons appearing to be guilty of offence). The four policemen opposed this application stating an appeal is pending before the Supreme Court and hence the plea moved by the prosecutor cannot be looked into. Mirajkar was thereafter removed as a special public prosecutor by the state government.

Begum has filed a plea before the High Court seeking his reinstatement. The plea is pending hearing. The trial has not seen any progress since 2018.

What did the Supreme Court say?

Begum through her lawyer Mihir Desai filed an application before the Supreme Court. It was heard on Thursday by the bench of Justice Ajay Rastogi and Abhay Oka. The plea sought clarification from the court and directions to the trial court to proceed with the application on the four policemen which was kept in abeyance in 2018. The four policemen also filed a plea opposing the application.

“After we have heard learned Counsel for the parties, we make it clear and grant liberty to the learned trial judge to proceed and hear the applications….and may decide the same on its own merits expeditiously in accordance with law,” the SC said. The trial court was slated to hear the case on Monday but it was adjourned to February 8 since it was on leave.

The court can now proceed with hearing the plea under section 319 on whether the four men can be added as accused. The appeal filed by Begum against the state government’s decision to not grant sanction to prosecute the four men will be heard separately.

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