Today, even if grudgingly, there is an admission in the mainstream discourse that people may be framed and implicated in false terror cases, often only on grounds of their religious affiliation. Investigations into Malegaon and Mecca Masjid blasts are two prominent examples of this prejudice. There are however, across the country, scores of ‘terror’ cases, which have resulted in the incarceration of hundreds of men, mostly on the basis of alleged ‘seized literature’ and nothing else.
Madhya Pradesh is one such story, which has passed unnoticed, undocumented. This report documents the large number of cases registered under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) across the state between 2001 and 2012. It lists 75 cases that were registered against former SIMI members, their friends and acquaintances – and sometimes people with no links to SIMI at all, when it was a lawful association – in police stations in Indore, Seoni, Khandwa, Bhopal, Burhanpur, Ujjain, Neemuch, Guna etc, practically the entire state. It is interesting to note that the state of MP has not witnessed a single terror incident during these years, and moreover in almost all the cases listed in the Report, violence is not even alleged by the police. The placing of these cases side by side allows us to expose the patterns of framing. Most of the FIRs look like copies of each other. An overwhelming number of cases pertain to seizure of SIMI posters, pamphlets and other literature. The SIMI posters and pamphlets invariably belong to the period prior to the ban, and the other magazines recovered are Tehreek e Millat – a magazine registered with the RNI, and never declared as ‘unlawful’. Even clippings of newspapers such as Nai Duniya and Dainik Jaagran carrying news items about SIMI, allegedly recovered from the accused, are shown as incriminating material. (see p. 22; 26)
The allegations as recorded in the FIRs are that the accused were standing in public places and shouting slogans in favour of the banned organization SIMI and vowing to take forward the cause. They were carrying posters and pamphlets, as if waiting for the police to arrest them with proof of their guilt. In many cases, though the accused are said to have collected a number of people to address them about SIMI or jihad, the police is unable to arrest anyone else.
One significant feature of the state is how registration of one case led to the registration of similar cases in different parts of the state. Arrests of 13 leading SIMI activists were allegedly made on 27 March 2008. Immediately after the arrests, on 29 March 2008, the Senior Superintendent of Police, Dhar, shot off letters to various districts of Madhya Pradesh asking for registration of similar cases. These letters immediately set of a chain reaction, resulting in 18 cases within one month, and another four over next six months. How can we be sure that it was the SSP’s letters that produced this result? Not only do some of these cases so registered make an explicit reference to this letter (for example FIR No. 180/2008, PS Neemach Cantt., dated 08.04.2008), the Investigating officer of the case, B.P.S. Parihar, himself produced 18 of these letters in the SIMI UAPA tribunal in 2010. (see boxed items in List of Cases for some interesting case studies)
The report also illustrates how, despite this kind of sketchy evidence and rampant procedural violations, many accused are being convicted by courts. In Part II of the report, a detailed analysis of a very prominent UAPA case from Khandwa (FIR 256/06) is provided.
In this case 14 accused, including two sisters Raafia and Asiya, were arrested and accused of furthering the activities of the unlawful organization, SIMI, by printing, distributing and possessing SIMI literature. This entire case was built on disclosures given by the accused (or memorandum) and recoveries.
In the course of the trial, however, it became clear that witnesses of recoveries could not be relied upon:
1. One key witness (PW 1) admitted to being member of the Bajrang Dal
2. PW 6 was booked under a criminal case in the Kotwali thana –the same thana which also investigated the UAPA case.
3. PW 5 alleged harassment from the police and retracted his statements. It was reported widely in the press that he was picked up and detained by the police after he turned hostile. He committed suicide a few months later, while the trial was on.
Moreover, the recoveries were not sealed – a fact accepted in court by the prosecution. Most strikingly, the recoveries shown in the present case were shown in four other UAPA cases! (see p. 68-9). In fact, the High Court passed strong remarks against the prosecution and the trial court, even questioning the wisdom of applying UAPA in the present case. And yet, the court overlooked each and every contradiction, every procedural violation and convicted eleven of the 14 accused under UAPA and other sections. (p. 62 and 64)
The report illustrates why the short cut methods of special or fast track courts, currently under discussion even in the Home Ministry, will not help as the malaise is deeper and more fundamental. The existence of laws like UAPA, which render entire communities perpetually suspect, make malicious and biased investigation that much easier. JTSA hopes that this document will strengthen the demand for the repeal of a law, which is no less unjust than the earlier POTA and TADA.
Please read the entire report here- Guilt by Association