Burden of proofhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/burden-of-proof-2/

Burden of proof

Tribunal deciding on extending SIMI ban must look at concrete evidence to establish its links with terror.

Tribunal deciding on extending SIMI ban must look at concrete evidence to establish its links with terror.

Since September 2001, the Students Islamic Movement of India has been serially banned by the Indian government. These bans have held through successive political dispensations. Now, as the Centre pushes for the seventh consecutive ban with the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal, it turns out that the majority of cases until the previous ban had ended in acquittals by the court. In other words, the government’s case is based on flimsy numbers, as many of the cases it presents as proof of the SIMI threat have been, in fact, ultimately disproved during the legal process.

Whether SIMI is an actively dangerous terrorist network with links around the world or merely an extremist Muslim social and political organisation, the truth can be established only through clear evidence and judicial scrutiny. When 97 out of 111 cases (excluding MP and UP) have actually collapsed, the government should ask itself whether the ban is fully justified. There is ample proof, meanwhile, that mere SIMI membership is used as an excuse to scapegoat young Muslim men in cases of terror and sedition.

Quran verses, religious books, even Urdu literature, have been shown as incriminating material, and citizens have been arrested merely for shouting anti-government slogans because they were angry about the Babri Masjid demolition or the Gujarat riots. Disputes between two groups of Muslims, or even protesting an altogether different cause, like atrocities against Tamils in Sri Lanka, have been treated as the basis for cases. “Spreading communal hatred” or demonstrating against a government action is deemed grounds for investigation — but these are distinct from terrorism. This ban, coupled with harsh anti-terror laws, certainly makes investigations easier — but as the UAP Tribunal considers the validity of the ban, it should consider all the material presented, including the outcomes in trial courts.

The question that the SIMI case highlights is one of civil rights, standards of evidence. The test is whether the constitutional presumption of innocence applies equally to all citizens. The fact that erstwhile SIMI members have fought for over 12 years shows their investment in the legal process. The climax of a terror case should not be the arrest, but the considered judicial verdict.