Eleven years after a blast at the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad killed eight persons and injured 58 — five others were shot dead by police during a riot that followed — an NIA court Monday acquitted five main accused, including Swami Aseemanand. Lawyers said special judge Ravinder Reddy noted that “the prosecution could not prove its case” because “no evidence was presented to prove the conspiracy”.
Hours after he delivered the verdict, judge Reddy, who was also the fourth additional metropolitan sessions judge, put in his papers. In a letter to the metropolitan sessions judge and the chief justice of the high court, Reddy said he was resigning due to personal reasons.
The NIA had accused Aseemanand and others of conspiracy to target Muslim places of worship. The chargesheet stated that between 2005 and 2007 all planned to commit the acts including the bomb blast at Mecca Masjid on May 18, 2007.
Also read | What is 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case?
They were charged under sections of the IPC, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Explosive Substances Act. Those acquitted Monday were Nabakumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand alias Ramdas (granted bail on March 23, 2017); Devendra Gupta alias Bobby alias Ramesh (out on bail but in judicial custody in other cases); Lokesh Sharma alias Ajay Tiwari alias Ajay alias Kalu (out on bail but in judicial custody in other cases); Bharat Mohanlal Rateswar alias Bharatbhai Mohanlal Rateswar (out on bail); and, Rajender Choudhary alias Samundar alias Dasarath alias Lakshman Das Maharaj (in judicial custody).
Suspect Sunil Joshi was found shot dead under mysterious circumstances in Dewas in Madhya Pradesh on December 29, 2007 while the other two accused, Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra, have been absconding and so the verdict against them is pending.
Defence lawyer B Rajvardhan Reddy said: “The court noted that the prosecution could not prove its case. No evidence was presented to prove the conspiracy. Five accused who were arrested have been acquitted by the court today.’’
Also read | 2007 Mecca Masjid blast: A timeline of events
On May 18, 2007, a bomb exploded at the Mecca Masjid during Friday prayers, resulting in the death of eight persons and injuries to 58. Five others were shot dead by police during a riot that followed. Two separate FIRs were registered against unknown persons at the Hussaini Alam police station regarding the blast and the recovery of an unexploded IED from Mecca Masjid.
The two cases were subsequently transferred to the CBI. During the investigation, the CBI added the names of six persons to the FIR between June and November 2010, arrested three and filed a chargesheet against Devendra Gupta and Lokesh Sharma on December 13, 2010.
The NIA took over the case in April 2011 and filed a supplementary chargesheet on May 16, 2011. The second supplementary chargesheet was filed on July 16, 2012, and a third on August 28, 2013. On February 13, 2014, the NIA court framed charges against the accused and summons were issued to witnesses. The NIA relied heavily on the alleged confessional statement of Aseemanand.
The NIA stated he was filled with remorse and desired to do “prayaschitha’’ and, therefore, made a confessional statement before a magistrate at the Tis Hazari courts in Delhi in which he “disclosed” the conspiracy and execution of bombing of different places including Mecca Masjid.
Aseemanand subsequently retracted the statement, saying he was made to confess under duress. Of the 230 witnesses examined by the prosecution, 35 turned hostile. One of the main witnesses declared hostile was Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit who was made a witness by NIA.