Two years ago, five men arrested on charges of being Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives pleaded guilty before a special court in Mumbai. After seven years of incarceration, Mohammad Irfan Gaus was the first among them to be granted bail this month. After his release from Taloja prison, he has claimed that he was innocent but pleaded guilty to avoid a prolonged trial and worsening of his family’s situation.
Last week, while granting bail to Gaus, the Bombay High Court observed: “Prima facie, at this stage, we are of the opinion that perusal of material made available to us does not show that there are reasonable grounds for believing that accusations against the appellant/accused no.4 (Gaus) are true.”
The Maharashtra ATS filed a chargesheet against the five, including Gaus, for offences punishable under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, IPC and the Arms Act. In October 2013, the case was transferred to the NIA.
Gaus (32) told The Indian Express, “The NIA told us that a few accused in a similar case have pleaded guilty before a special court in Bengaluru and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. NIA suggested that we consider pleading guilty. We decided to plead guilty and requested NIA to tell the court to grant us five years of imprisonment as we had already spent that time in jail,” he said. “We were left with no choice but to plead guilty, not because we were guilty, but we had no idea when our case was going to be concluded. We had families to look after. The situation was getting bad.”
The NIA did not respond to calls and text messages from The Indian Express seeking comment. Appearing for the NIA in court, Advocate A M Chimalkar opposed Gaus’s bail plea by contending that there is voluminous documentary evidence against him.
According to the prosecution, Gaus and another accused Muzzammil made 214 calls to each other between October 10, 2011, and August 9, 2012. Gaus allegedly also travelled with Muzzammil from Mumbai to Nanded by bus.
The prosecution claimed that one of the men had received money from Saudi Arabia, sent by another accused. It was alleged that the accused were found with a revolver and live cartridges, and that they planned to instigate young Muslims to take to violence.
In November 2017, the five sought to plead guilty before the trial court. The court, however, rejected their request.
While rejecting the bail plea of Gaus at the time, the HC observed that “the trial of the case be taken up as expeditiously as possible and in any event, within eight months”. However, Gaus said, only three witnesses were examined in eight months, and the case is still at the stage of the last witness, the investigating officer, being examined.
Gaus said he was working at his inverter battery shop before he was arrested in 2012. While he was in jail, his father and brother took care of his wife and his son.