December 12, 2016 3:01:59 am
A report based on findings of the People’s Tribunal on Acquitted Innocents in terrorism cases, led by former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court A P Shah, has pointed out the “special nature of wrongfulness in terror prosecutions” and asked the government to act against police officers responsible for such cases and make them “criminally liable for the malicious acts done by them in their official capacity”. A number of people who had been falsely implicated in terror cases and spent years in jail before being acquitted by courts deposed before the tribunal in October. The final report of the tribunal was released on Saturday.
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The report said that “the depositions (of falsely implicated people) explicitly make clear all that is wrong with the criminal justice system when it comes to dealing with cases of terrorism”. It put forth five suggestions as a way forward: compensation, accountability, legislative reforms, institutional reforms and guidelines for the media. “In testimony after testimony, we heard of illegal and wrongful detention, torture in police custody, forced confessions extracted under duress, long incarceration, repeated denial of bail, to be acquitted finally years after their arrest,’’ the report said. “It was deeply saddening to hear the testimonies about destroyed lives.
That this was a result of callous and malafide action on the part of those whose duty it is to uphold law was even more frustrating. While wrongful arrests imply that the actual perpetrators of the terror attacks are free to continue their operations and increase insecurity for society as a whole, continuous targeting of a community will also fuel a sense of injustice.” Explaining the “special nature of wrongfulness in terror prosecution”, the report said that such “wrongful prosecution did not result from mere technical errors or genuine human lapses in investigation, but from willful and malicious investigation and prosecution”.
“It is routine for police and investigating agencies to round up and arrest Muslim youth in the aftermath of any bomb explosion or attack. The most striking example of this is the manner in which investigation into the Malegaon blast 2006 was carried out. Members of the Muslim community were rounded up, trumped as SIMI activists and shown as key suspects despite the fact that at least one of them was already in police custody at that time, and another key accused was hundreds of kms away leading the Shab-e-Baraat prayers in Yavatmal on that very day,’’ the report said. “The testimonies lend credence to the charge that the investigating agencies are prejudiced and that they manipulate and fabricate evidence to make unnecessary arrests, only for the reason that the accused belong to a minority community.”
The tribunal also blamed the “draconian architecture of anti-terror legislation” for “false implication of scores of youth on charges of terrorism” because the laws grant “excessive powers to the investigating agencies”. Suggesting legislative reforms, the report said that “the Prevention of Torture Bill should be passed by Parliament. Provisions of the anti-terror laws, Indian Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code should be amended to hold erring officers accountable and to curb custodial violence”.
The report raised the “irresponsible and sensationalist role played by a section of media in reporting on terror crimes and arrests of suspects in such cases”. “News coverage of such investigations routinely labels suspected detainees as culprits and often becomes the primary source of their stigmatisation among the community,’’ it said.
The tribunal concluded, “As the apex court observed, it is the duty of the state to apply the healing balm… Alongside compensation that the state must offer in recognition of its liability and victim’s rights, those guilty of falsely framing innocents in terror cases must suffer penal consequences.” It recommended that “dignity of those acquitted must be restored”. “Those who had been wrongly convicted should be entitled to compensation from the state. Those who are responsible for subverting the rule of law — police, prosecutors etc — must be held accountable,’’ the report said. The tribunal also asked the NHRC and SHRC to “establish a dedicated cell in the commission to especially look into the cases relating to acquitted persons and their grievances”
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