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India: Is No One Guilty in the Mecca Masjid Blast?

Wednesday 18 April 2018, by siawi3

Source: https://thewire.in/security/special-nia-court-acquits-all-ten-accused-in-mecca-masjid-blast-case

NIA Court Acquits Hindutva Activists Accused of Mecca Masjid Blast in Hyderabad

The explosion of a crude bomb at the historic Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in May 2007 had left nine dead and at least 58 injured.

NIA Court Acquits Hindutva Activists Accused of Mecca Masjid Blast in Hyderabad

File photo of the Mecca Masjid blast. Credit: Twitter
The Wire Staff

16/Apr/2018

New Delhi: A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Hyderabad today acquitted all those accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast which left nine dead.

On May 18, 2007, the explosion of a crude bomb, planted allegedly by the Hindutva organisation Abhinav Bharat, also injured at least 58 when thousands of people had gathered for Friday namaz at the Mecca Masjid, considered to be one of the holiest Muslim shrines in south India.

The acquittal has raised doubts about the independence of the investigative and prosecutorial process in cases where the accused share ideological, political or organisational connections with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the RSS.

This, however, is not the first time such doubts have been cast. In June 2015, Rohini Salian, a senior Mumbai prosecutor had accused the NIA of asking her to “go soft†on the group of Hindu extremists accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. Notably, some of them were also charged in the Mecca Masjid blast case.

Salian had at the time said she had received verbal instructions from the NIA asking her to give the accused an easy ride. The investigative agency had, however, denied Salian’s allegations.

The Mecca Masjid case has faced several setbacks. After initial investigation by the local police, the case was transferred to the CBI, which filed a chargesheet.

The Hyderabad police arrested a number of Muslim men following the blast and later admitted to torturing many of them. The men were all eventually released and paid a total of Rs 70 lakh in compensation.

The CBI examined 68 witnesses, but 54 of them – including Defence Research and Development Organisation scientist Vadlamani Venkat Rao – had turned hostile.

Subsequently, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the case from the CBI in 2011.

Ten persons allegedly belonging to right-wing organisations were named as accused in the case. However, only five of them – Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary – were arrested and faced trial in the case.

A key accused and RSS functionary, Sunil Joshi, was shot while the case was being investigated.

Aseemanand, who is the primary accused in a number of bomb blasts including Mecca Masjid, Ajmer, Samjhauta Express and Malegaon that occurred between 2005 and 2007, had walked out of Chanchalguda jail on April 1 after the NIA chose not to challenge the trial court order granting him bail on March 23.

A total of 226 witnesses were examined during the trial and as many as 411 documents exhibited.

(With PTI inputs)

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Source: https://thewire.in/security/mecca-masjid-blasts-case-verdict-explainer

Explainer: Is No One Guilty in the Mecca Masjid Blast?

All those accused in the case were acquitted on Monday.

Explainer: Is No One Guilty in the Mecca Masjid Blast?

Photo: A special NIA court today acquitted all ten accused in the Mecca Masjid blasts case. Credit: Reuters/Files

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta

16/Apr/2018

New Delhi: A National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Hyderabad today acquitted all five men accused of the Mecca Masjid blast case. The cellphone-triggered pipe bombing inside the mosque took place on May 18, 2007, leaving nine people dead and nearly 60 severely injured.

Curiously, the judge who gave the verdict resigned soon after, on Monday evening, citing personal reasons that he said were unrelated to the case.

The role of NIA is also likely to be hotly debated as it failed to prove anyone’s guilt after pursuing investigations against the accused for more than seven years – after taking the case over from the CBI. The abrupt removal of Pratibha Ambedkar, the officer-in-charge of the case who was transferred two weeks ago, raises further questions about the conduct of the NIA.

The NIA’s role in investigating the cases related to Hindutva terror has been doubtful, with many suggesting that the Modi government was trying to pressurise the NIA to “go soft†on the cases during the trial.

How the Mecca Masjid case unfolded

Soon after the 2007 blast, the police suspected the role of a Pakistan-based Islamist group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), but investigations over the next few years pointed at the possible role of Hindutva organisations.

Subsequently, fringe Hindutva organisations like Abhinav Bharat were held responsible for a series of blasts that took place between 2006 to 2008. The most significant of them were blasts in the Samjhauata Express (2007), Ajmer Sharif (2007), Malegaon (2006) and Mecca Masjid (2007). In the years after these blasts, Naba Kumar Sarkar (better known as Swami Aseemanand), Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt Col Shrikant Purohit were taken into custody for allegedly leading the blasts at various places.

Following the blast, the Andhra Pradesh police held more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, according to various reports, for interrogation. Twenty-one of them were chargesheeted, the Hindustan Times reported. The police named a person called Bilal, allegedly a HuJI operative, as the mastermind. When he was killed in police firing, various human rights organisations raised their voices as they thought the encounter was fake. In January 2009, Bilal was acquitted by a local court as the police failed to provide credible evidence against him.

Following this, the case was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which investigated the bombings for around two years. As the involvement of various Hindutva organisations in different blasts kept coming out, the CBI pointed to the role of such extremist groups in the Mecca Masjid blast too. It filed a chargesheet against three people, all of whom were linked to the larger Sangh parivar – RSS pracharak Devender Gupta, property dealer and Hindutva activist Lokesh Sharma, and his leader Sunil Joshi.

Joshi’s name had also emerged in the Samjhauta blast case, but before the police could reach him, he was murdered in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, under mysterious circumstances in December 2007.

The NIA took over the case in 2011. Around the same time, it also took charge of the other three blasts in which the role of Hindutva organisations was suspected. All the investigative agencies concluded that the modus operandi in all four blasts were similar – cellphone triggered bombs, use of IEDs, etc. Several people who were investigated, the police alleged, came from Madhya Pradesh and operated from Indore.

The NIA named Aseemanand, a former RSS activist, as the kingpin of the Mecca Masjid blast and accused ten people in the case: Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange and Ramachandra Kalsangra (both former RSS activists who are still absconding), Sunil Joshi (murdered in 2007), Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar (an employee in a private firm), Rajender Chowdhary (a farmer), Tejram Parmar and Amit Chouhan.

Out of the ten, five – Gupta, Sharma, Aseemanand, Rateshwar and Chowdhary – were arrested. Recently, in March 2017, Gupta and Joshi were held guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment by a NIA special court in the Ajmer Dargah blast case. However, both of them were acquitted in the Mecca Masjid ruling that came out today.

Aseemanand and Rateshwar were granted bail in 2017, while three others were put under judicial remand. It is being said that 226 witnesses and 411 documents were examined during the trial. Before the NIA took over, the CBI had examined 68 witnesses in the case, 54 of whom, including Defence Research and Development Organisation scientist Vadlamani Venkat Rao, turned hostile.

With witnesses turning hostile, it appears that the court could not find enough evidence to put the accused in the dock. Aseemanand was also acquitted in the Ajmer blast case. With him walking free without punishment in the Mecca Masjid case too, the role of the NIA under the Narendra Modi government is back under the scanner.

Failure of justice?

It may be recalled that Aseemanand had confessed to his crime both in front of the police and the media. In an interview to The Caravan, he had confessed to planning the bombings. Before the Caravan interview, Tehelka too had published a report about his 42-page confession statement, in which he talked in detail about various stages of organising and executing the blast. On December 18, 2010, he told the magistrate in the court, “I know I can be sentenced to the death penalty but I still want to make the confession.†He had also talked about the role of prominent RSS leaders like Indresh Kumar in mentoring those who eventually executed the blast.

This is what Tehelka reported:

“Indreshji met me at Shabri Dham (Aseemanand’s ashram in the Dangs district of Gujarat) sometime in 2005,†Aseemanand told the magistrate. “He was accompanied by many top RSS functionaries. He told me that exploding bombs was not my job and instead told me to focus on the tribal welfare work assigned to me by the RSS. He said he had deputed Sunil Joshi for this job (terror attacks) and he would extend Joshi whatever help was required.†Aseemanand further narrated how Indresh financed Joshi for his terror activities and provided him men to plant bombs. Aseemanand also confessed to his own role in the terror plots and how he had motivated a bunch of RSS pracharaks and other Hindu radicals to carry out terror strikes at Malegaon, Hyderabad and Ajmer.

Although Aseemanand retracted his statements later, his confessions at the initial stages of the investigation became important talking points.

Undated file photo of Aseemanand, to the left of Narendra Modi, at the Swami’s ashram. Credit: Caravan magazine

Questionable administrative decisions

Over the last few years, the NIA has received a lot of flak for going slow on cases that link Hindutva organisations to blasts. In an unprecedented government decision, Sharad Kumar, then NIA chief who was supposed to retire in October 2015, was given an extension to continue as the agency’s chief. Many former bureaucrats who spoke to The Wire then had said that the step was unconventional and feared that his apparent closeness to the BJP may have triggered the decision.

Kumar’s extension came in the backdrop of public prosecutor Rohini Salian’s sensational disclosure alleging that she was asked by an NIA official to “go soft†on Hindutva terror cases. Salian was the special prosecutor in the Malegaon blast case. In an interview to The Indian Express, she said, “He (the NIA officer) did not want to talk over the phone. He came and said to me that there is a message that I should go soft.â€

The Wire had then reported:

Before the June 12 hearing of the case in the Mumbai sessions court, the same NIA official told her that ‘higher ups’ didn’t want her to appear for the matter, and that someone else would be appearing instead. “So the meaning very clearly was, don’t get us favourable orders. Unfavourable orders [were] invited — that goes against society,†she told the Indian Express in an interview.

Although the NIA denied her allegations almost immediately, Salian filed an affidavit in the court reiterating the same. She later named Suhas Warke, a superintendent of police in the NIA, who allegedly asked her to take a backseat in the case.

To make matters even murkier, a few officials of the Hyderabad unit of the NIA, in April 2017, alleged that the agency’s top officials scuttled their plan to challenge the bail granted to Aseemanand on March 23. They alleged that senior NIA officials in New Delhi rejected a proposal made by its Hyderabad office to challenge the bail.

“There were sufficient grounds to challenge the bail order of Aseemanand and the High Court was at liberty to reject the agency’s move if there were no merits in the appeal. Among investigators, the opinion to appeal was very strong,†officials in Hyderabad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were quoted as saying in the Indian Express. This indicated that the top officials gave clear orders asking them to not to pursue the matter further.

The exposé by the Indian Express came at a time when the NIA was facing flak for going soft on Hindutva terror cases. It had not challenged Aseemanand’s bail in the Samjhauta blast case too in 2014. Around the same time, it had exonerated Pragya Singh Thakur, Indresh Kumar and DRDO’s Venkat Rao Mahalkar in the Ajmer blast case. Venkat Rao, who was a witness in the Mecca Masjid case, later turned hostile.

Similarly, the top investigative agency was accused of sabotaging the Malegaon blast case. Writing for The Wire, advocate Sarim Naved explained how witness statements were lost in the middle of hearings and how the NIA also asked the court to drop the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crimes Act (MCOCA) charges against the accused. That an investigative agency, which was supposedly fighting to get the accused punished, was requesting the court to lighten the charges against the accused was a rare phenomenon. Even in the Mecca Masjid case, it was reported that many files, including Aseemanand’s statements, went missing from the court suddenly, because of which the hearings had to stop for a considerable time.

A year after the Modi government came to power, the Sunil Joshi murder case, one of the most important links between these blasts and one which the NIA fought for months to take over, was quietly shifted to Madhya Pradesh. The NIA said that it found no evidence of terror in the murder case. Now that Joshi has been convicted in the Ajmer blast, the position of the NIA is unclear.

In one of the most blatant U-turns, the NIA also tried to shift its position on the Samjhauta blast case and wanted to probe the “Pakistani hand†again. The former Haryana SIT chief, Vikash Narain Rai, who investigated the case, had told The Wire that there was clear evidence of involvement of Hindutva groups in the case and the SIT had found no evidence against Islamist terrorist groups, despite probing their role for months.

Three of the people the NIA had presented as kingpins in the cases are either out on bail or have been acquitted. Much of these court decisions have arguably resulted from the NIA’s softening stance against the accused. Pragya Thakur is out on bail, and so is Purohit. Y.C. Modi, the current NIA chief, was once pulled up by the Gujarat high court for “ineptitude resulting into injustice†in the controversial murder case of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya. With someone like him at the helm, it looks improbable that the agency will pursue matters with greater firmness and grit in the near future.

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Source: https://thewire.in/security/muslims-falsely-accused-in-mecca-masjid-blast-angry-disappointed-after-verdict

Muslims Falsely Accused in Mecca Masjid Blast Angry, Disappointed After Verdict

“Yesterday, the judge has acquitted all five men accused. Where did the bomb come from then? The sky? The ground? And who carried out this horrible attack?â€
Muslims Falsely Accused in Mecca Masjid Blast Angry, Disappointed After Verdict

Photo: From R: Nayeem’s uncle, Mohammad Saleem, Abdul Wajid, Dr Junaid. Courtesy: D.V.L. Padma Priya

Padma Priya

17.04.18
14 hours ago

New Delhi: Abdul Wasey was 18 in 2007, when he was injured in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad. The blast left nine dead and nearly 60 injured. In 2013, I met him and his father while reporting on the 2013 Dilshuknagar blasts, in which Wasey was injured, once again.

Wasey’s father was a worried man, as this was the second time that he had received a call that his son was in an explosion. Not only was his son in the wrong place at the wrong time twice, the bizarre coincidence had raised the antennas of the doctors who were treating him. They leaked the story to the media, resulting in intense scrutiny and speculation that led the police to Wasey.

I remember Wasey’s father being indignant about this treatment, questioning why no one seemed to care about the psychological trauma his son was going through upon being branded a terror suspect. “The police are asking him if he is affiliated to any group; what he was doing there in the first place. I don’t understand why he can’t be there (Dilshuknagar)!†I recall him saying.

However, Wasey’s story of being branded a terror suspect for belonging to a certain community was not new to the city. In 2007, in the months following the Mecca Majid blast and soon after the twin blasts in Lumbini Park and near Gokul Chaat, up to 60 Muslim men were rounded up by the Hyderabad police and illegally detained and tortured.

The Andhra Pradesh State Minorities Commission (of undivided AP) then appointed advocate L. Ravi Chander to probe these allegations, who found that there was enough evidence that some of them were tortured. Many spent over six months in jail and had to got court for over a year and a half before they were all acquitted. They were then provided with an apology from the state government, along with a “good character†certificate and Rs 3 lakh compensation. I spoke to three men after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court verdict yesterday, all of whom expressed shock at the judgement and had the same questions: “Where did the bombs come from? Who was behind these blasts?â€

Ibrahim Junaid is one of these 60 men. He was among the many people who had, in the aftermath of the blast, helped take the injured to hospitals. Two months later, while he was a third year Unani medicine student, he was apprehended and illegally detained by the Hyderabad police under suspicion of plotting and planning the Mecca Masjid blasts.

“I was beaten brutally, my beard pulled at, and accused of being a terrorist and a traitor,†Junaid recalls. He says the police officers interrogating him tried every trick in the book to extract a confession from him. “I questioned the police as to why I was picked up and was further beaten and tortured. When I finally got out of jail, six months later, I was shattered,†he says.

Now a practicing Unani doctor in Hyderabad, he is perplexed by the NIA court judgement acquitting the five accused in the Mecca Masjid case. “I was hoping that justice would finally be delivered for the victims and their families, but the acquittal has left me very disturbed,†he says. For Junaid, the journey so far has been long and arduous. “I lost an entire academic year because of the false charges. Not only that, I lost my place in the college. I had to get a court order to get re-admitted,†he says.

However, the police harassment didn’t stop there. Junaid was often followed by the police and he says he lost his job at a private hospital because of this. “They came to my place of practice and asked them how long I had been working there, what my role was, and apprised them of the false charges,†he says, adding, “Every time there was any attack anywhere else, some of us would be picked up again.†He said the police visited him as recently as 2016. “Eleven years has passed, but people still look at me as an accused despite having been declared innocent. In today’s India, two kinds of people are always attacked – Dalits and Muslims. And now the courts have failed us too.â€

Thirty-four-year-old Abdul Wajid Tadban was also one the people who helped transport the injured after the Mecca Masjid blast. He remembers seeing blood everywhere in the mosque and body parts strewn around.

“What I saw that day is indescribable and still imprinted in my memories,†he says. Little did he know that his humanitarian act would bring him under the police’s radar. Three months later, as he was heading out to work, he was surrounded by 25 police officers in mufti, blindfolded and taken away. “I don’t know exactly where I was kept. I suspect it was a farmhouse of sorts, and I was kept here for 12 days.â€

His voice shaking, he says, “I was hit brutally; electric shocks given all over my body, including genitals; I was not allowed to sleep and was forced to drink 20-30 litres of water at one go. Between every brutality, the police would give me a 10-15 minute break and ask me to confess to a crime I didn’t do or give names of others from the locality.â€

Like Junaid, Tadban too spent over six months in jail. “I used to cry every day and pray to Allah to just get me out of this hellhole. My bail was rejected multiple times, with police accusing me of being an ISI agent or working with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.

Image: Shaiq Nayeem, who was killed in the blast. Courtesy: D.V.L. Padma Priya

His life was irreversibly changed and he became a pariah among his friends and relatives. “Everyone thought that if they were to be associated with me then something bad would happen to them too. Even today, I can’t sleep peacefully. I sleep with the help of medicines and am always looking over my shoulder. It’s very difficult for me to get over what happened to me and I don’t think I can ever forget it.â€

“Yesterday, the judge has acquitted all five men accused. Where did the bomb come from then? The sky? The ground? And who carried out this horrible attack?†he asks furiously. “Just because I am a Muslim, I was accused of being a Pakistani, of being a traitor. I am a Hindustani and am ashamed at the state of our country now – from Akhlaq to the girl in Kathua – and now I have lost all hope of any justice in this case.â€

Mohammed Rayeesuddin, a 37-year-old, also has similar questions for the investigating agencies. He too was falsely implicated in the Mecca Majid blast case, and says he is speechless after the verdict. “First they (Hyderabad police) botched up the investigation by falsely implicating so many of us Hyderabadi youngsters, ruining our lives; then when finally, some honest police and investigating officers conduct an impartial enquiry and find five people as guilty, one of whom confessed, the court cites lack of evidence and hostile witnesses and acquits them. I am a small man, I don’t understand the ways of the courts, but if these institutions can’t deliver justice, where are we supposed to go?â€

Rayeesuddin was working as a salesman at a jewellery shop when the blast happened. “I was at home for lunch when I heard that a blast happened at Mecca Masjid and I went there to see if I could help,†he recalls. Three months later, he was picked up by police and kept in detention illegally for a week.

“I think I was kept in a greyhounds cell and I was tortured every single day. My brother had no idea where I was. That was the season of arrests and every other family had one of their sons or husbands or brothers being picked up by the police.†Rayeesuddin too faced police brutality and also was forced to undergo the notorious narco test (which is not admissible in a court of law) along with others.

“Around 25 of us were treated like hardened terrorists and were jailed in high security barracks. We weren’t allowed to meet with family or seek legal counsel at times,†he says. The intense police and media scrutiny in the initial days after their arrest didn’t help matters. “The Telugu and Urdu media reported only the police version. They declared that we were accused even before we were presented before the judge. It was only after pressure from human rights groups that the media began reporting in a much more unbiased manner,†he says.

“I will never forget the headlines accusing me of being a terrorist and traitor.†Eleven years may seem like a lot, but the shadow of false charges has not lifted for him. “I will always be looked at as a suspected terror accused, not as a victim of police brutality. Yesterday, I wanted to go past Mecca Masjid on some work, but I couldn’t because there was intense discussion again about the blasts and the case, and I involuntarily recalled all the torture I was put through. I just have one question now: who did these blasts and who should be held responsible for the nine deaths and injuries from the blast?â€

The families of victims too are shell-shocked and disappointed, says Lateef Mohammed Khan, general secretary, Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee. “If the families want to challenge the judgement, we will support them in whichever way we can,†he said, adding that the judge resigning immediately seems very suspicious.

Mohammed Saleem, whose 18-year-old nephew Shaiq Nayeem was killed in the blasts, says that all he feels now is shock and a sense of hopelessness. “Since 11 years, my sister was waiting for the judgement day. And now that it has come, she has become a shell again. She knew she could never get her son back, but we all hoped that the least we could get was justice for his death. Now that hope has been snatched from us,†he said. Questioning the way the investigation was carried out over the last decade, he asks “if now the public has to catch the culprits, as the authorities from police to CBI to NIA have clearly failed to do so.â€

D.V.L. Padma Priya is a freelance journalist who was formerly with The Hindu, Hans India and Médecins sans frontières.