On April 24, a special court in Barabanki convicted Hakim Tariq Qasmi of “waging war against the country” and sentenced him to three rigorous life sentences and two years of simple imprisonment, and imposed three fines of Rs 50,000 each which, if not paid, would entail another 10 months in prison per fine.
In convicting Qasmi, the court relied entirely on the police case, and disregarded the R D Nimesh Commission report that had cast doubts on the UP police version of the arrest of Qasmi and Khalid Mujahid as well as Mujahid’s “mysterious death” in custody.
The police claimed to have arrested Tariq and Mujahid, both from Azamgarh, outside the Barabanki railway station early on December 22, 2007, and recovered RDX and detonators from them. The men, police claimed, were members of the proscribed Harkat-ul-Jihadi Islami and were planning a bombing. The court found the charges credible and pronounced Qasmi guilty of “possession of explosives” and “waging war against the country”.
On questions raised by the commission’s report, which the government had tabled in the assembly and which was accepted, the April 24 judgment said: “Stressing on the report, the defence had pleaded that the prosecution story is concocted and false… But the prosecution has opposed the above plea by saying that an inquiry commission report is not the decision of a court and, therefore, should not influence the case.’’
The court noted “whatever conclusion an inquiry commission comes to is not binding on a court and instead the court, based on the findings of the investigating agency, can give a decision different from the inquiry commission’s.”
The judgment also recorded Qasmi’s statement detailing how he was picked up days before the police claimed to have arrested him and tortured: “He was laid upon a sheet of ice and a high voltage bulb was placed near his head… he was forcibly fed water through his nose and given electric shocks… He was beaten up and forced to sign on several sheets of plain paper.”
The court did not comment on this.
Qasmi’s fellow accused, Mujahid, got no more than a passing mention: “Due to his death, the trial against him has abated”. Mujahid’s death had led to a case against 44 UP police personnel, including top officers.
Defence lawyer Mohammad Shouib told The Indian Express: “The court did not consider our argument at all. It did not give credence to statements by Tariq before it or consider discrepancies in the police version brought out by the Nimesh Commission.’’
Although its own inquiry commission pointed to a frame-up and asked it to “identify and act against officials who perpetrated this unlawful activity”, the UP government did nothing. Even when Mujahid died in judicial custody, the government, instead of ensuring an investigation and fixing responsibility, pleaded for withdrawal of the case to safeguard “communal harmony”. The court rejected its plea.
“It had to happen. Why would a court release a person accused of terrorism on the faulty premise of securing communal harmony? The government could have put forth the findings of the Nimesh Commission and accepted that the police concocted the arrest story. The court would have taken that seriously,” said Shahnawaz Alam of Rehai Manch, which fights for youth framed in terror cases.
HOW IT UNFOLDED
Dec. 12, 2007: 19 days after serial blasts in Faizabad, Varanasi and Lucknow on November 23, Hakim Tariq Qasmi, a Unani doctor from Sammopur village, was on his way to Azamgarh to help out at a health camp. According to his statement, as he approached a checkpost in Rani ki Sarai, the police intercepted his motorcycle and bundled him into a white Sumo.
Dec. 14: His family filed missing persons report, moved an application before CJM.
Dec. 16: Teacher Khalid Mujahid was in Mariyahu market, Jaunpur, when the police took him away in a vehicle, according to his family. His uncle Zaheer Alam called the SHO, Mariyahu, and faxed a complaint about his “abduction” to the CM, governor and home secretary.
Dec. 22: Then additional DGP (law and order) Brij Lal told reporters in Lucknow that police had arrested Qasmi and Mujahid from Barabanki and recovered detonators and RDX from them.
March 2008: Amid public outrage, the then Mayawati government constituted the R D Nimesh Commission to inquire into the arrests.
August 2012: Committee submitted report after examining 92 affidavits, including 42 from state agencies and 25 from the defence, and concluded that the police account of the arrest was doubtful. It asked the state to “identify and act against officials who perpetrated this unlawful activity”.
April 24, 2013: The Akhilesh Yadav government directed the Gorakhpur district magistrate to withdraw the case. The SP had made an election promise to drop terrorism cases against “innocent” Muslims. However, instead of seeking to withdraw it on the basis of the commission’s findings, it cited “communal harmony”.
May 8: A Barabanki court rejected the plea, saying the state had filed faulty and incomplete papers. The government moved the high court, which rejected the appeal.
May 18: Mujahid died while being taken to a Lucknow jail from Barabanki court. The police cited “sudden medical complications” but his family insisted he was “murdered under a planned conspiracy”, pointing to “torture marks”. The state promised a CBI probe.
December 2014: CJM’s court rejected final police report on Mujahid’s death and asked for a fresh probe. The police again filed a closure report, a protest petition against which is pending. Mujahid’s family sought a CBI investigation, and moved court.
April 28, 2015: Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court sought a fresh response from CBI by July 6 on details of investigation into Mujahid’s death.