Guilt by Association

On November 7th, The report Guilt by Association was introduced by the president of JTSA, Manisha Sethi. She said that idea for the report took root in 2011 when a JTSA team visited Madhya Pradesh following the arrest of a number of Muslim youth in Khandwa. When the team visited the families of the accused, it discovered an altogether different version, putting in serious doubt the police claims. The men had actually been apprehended days prior to their said arrest and many family members had in fact filed writs of habeas corpus in local courts, asking for them to be produced before the magistrate.

Manisha said that usually when one talks of fabricated cases, one thinks of Malegaon or Mecca Masjid which are now well documented. But the story of Madhya Pradesh remains an untold one. 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 andDainik Jaagran carrying news items about SIMI, allegedly recovered from the accused, are shown as incriminating material.

It is impossible to see these large number of cases registered as divorced from the continuation of the ban on SIMI. These cases validate the extension of the ban; the ban legitimizes the witch-hunt in the name of combating the ‘terrorist organization’ creating a vicious circle. Under UAPA, the ban on an unlawful association is required to be reviewed every two years by a tribunal. SIMI Tribunals are headed by a judge of the Delhi High Court. Barring 2008 when Justice Geeta Mittal revoked the ban citing the scarcity of evidence and facts – as opposed to the plenitude of allegations – against the organization, every single tribunal (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012) has continued the ban. The endless extension of the ban on SIMI and the large number of SIMI cases are intimately related to each other. The ban is extended citing the large number of ‘SIMI’ cases, and Muslim youth are arrested and charged for being members of SIMI on flimsy grounds. It is a tragic tautology that has played out for the past decade and more

Ashok Agrawal, Advocate and longtime campaigner for civil rights, spoke next. He pointed out the irony of representing SIMI in the UAPA tribunal. Though, he is contesting the ban on SIMI, he said, “I am not a lawyer since SIMI does not exist”. The UAPA, he reminded, has a history of 100 years, first brought by the British as a criminal law amendment act. When POTA was repealed, the UAPA was amended. UAPA made membership punishable. I have stressed that we need to find concrete proof of membership, or unlawful activity, but all the proof they have is police confessions. A large proportion of material that was used as the basis to ban SIMI was confessions made to the police. Many of the police confession cannot be used in the trials … but the. The same confessions, which cannot be admitted as evidence in court, were however used by the Cabinet Committee on Security to extend the ban on the organization. Each of the tribunals, very high powered ones, headed by justices of the Delhi High court, have relied again and again on these confessions –patently illegal material to continue the ban.

On 27th September 2001—when the first ban on SIMI was imposed—within a week, 300 cases were registered across India on flimsy grounds. These included allegation such as screaming slogans or putting up slogans. These cases are very similar, he said, to what was happening in Punjab of the 1980s.

Mr. Wajahat Habibullah, chairperson, National Minorities Commission, appreciating the report, said that it would be valuable to the NCM’s efforts in seeking a review of this unjust law. He said that he requested the board of Governors of NHRC, of which he is an ex officio member, to ask the government for a review of UAPA. UAPA is, he said, an unsound law, which gives excessive powers to the police. He also decried the appalling lack of prosecution of police officers, proven to have participated in framing of cases. In particular, he spoke of the Mecca Masjid Case. While the lives of those who are falsely framed are destroyed, the perpetrators of these fabrications, receive promotions and medals.

Dr Binayak Sen congratulating the JTSA for bringing out this report, remarked that the previous report was also a landmark in the analysis of such cases and a great resource for activists. While this present report focuses on SIMI cases, Sen drew attention to the fact that this is but one example of the targeting of innocent people, and the fabrication of cases by police in other parts of the country. He particularly mentioned the example of Chhatisgarh, where Adivasis have been framed as Maoists in many cases.

Sen, himself, convicted under UAPA, recounted his own experience of how a letter purportedly from a Maoist commander to him was presented before the Court even though there was no evidence that it was seized from his house. This document did not have either Sen’s or the Investigating Officer’s signature on it. When this was questioned in Court, the prosecution’s lawyer argued that it was ‘stuck’ to the other documents! Sen also stated that the documents allegedly taken from his house were taken out in an unsealed cover, violating all codes of law.

The last speaker of the programme was Rebecca John, a prominent Senior Advocate of the Delhi High Court who has successfully taken up many cases of civil rights violation under the UAPA. Ms. John emphasized the fact that the judiciary has not done enough to release reign in the prosecuting agencies and to ensure just and fair trials. She insisted that evidence must be scrutinized at every stage of the trial so that innocents are not incarcerated for long periods. Acquittals after 15 years mean little to those who have lost their lives behind bars. Among other cases, Rebecca John detailed the particular case of Mohd Rafiq, who had been picked up by the Delhi Police in the 2005 Diwali blasts case. In his particular case, the Court has refused to take cognizance of the fact that the chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police in 2006 did not have the attendance record of Rafiq in Kashmir University, where he was a student. The defence case is that he was present in class on the day the police alleges he had executed the bomb blasts. The defence has also submitted an affidavit by the then Registrar stating that Rafiq was in fact present in the University on the said date.

The programme ended with the screening of K.P. Sasi’s film ‘Fabricated’, on the various cases of frame ups across the country.