So WHAT was their CRIME?

Arrested on terror charges of targeting Rightwing Hindutva leaders in Karnataka, those acquitted with no evidence face extreme mental agony and stress

Sadiq Naqvi Delhi 

August 29, 2012: “Early morning, at around 9 am, a team of policemen from the elite Central Crime Branch of the Bengaluru Police and members of the Andhra Pradesh ATS swooped down on my house in the JC Nagar locality,” says MuthiurRehman, who was working as a journalist with Deccan Herald inBengaluru.  A predominantly Muslim neighbourhood, it is mostly the upper-middle class of the minority community which inhabit this locality. “I was still sleeping for I had come late from work,” he recalls.

Four people, including MuthiurRehman, Yusuf Nalaband, Aijaz Ahmed Mirza and Mohd Riyaz, were picked up.  “My brother, Shoaib Ahmed Mirza, was picked up from the lane when he was returning from the mosque,” says Aijaz, an engineer who was working with DRDO. Abdul Hakeem was picked up from the neighbourhood, says Muthiur Rehman.  “It was like a kidnapping,” he says, recounting how policemen in plain clothes whisked them away.

Later in the day, the Bengaluru Police spoke to the media. “A catastrophe has been averted in Karnataka following the arrests,” said Karnataka DGP-IGP Lalrokhuma Pachau. “We were able to lay our hands on crucial evidence. Investigations are on and we cannot reveal much at this juncture,” Bengaluru City police chief BG Jyothi prakash said. The police claimed that they had unearthed a grand conspiracy to eliminate some Rightwing leaders and journalists in the BJP-ruled state. Some Bajrang Dal leaders and a nuclear installation at Kaiga was also on their hit-list, the police claimed.

The FIR also says that Abdul Hakeem Jamadar and another accused Dr ZafarIqbal, had gone to Iran on the orders of the commanders of LeT and HuJI and from there crossed over to Pakistan where they met ISI officers. “Actually, Abdul Hakim Jamadar was close to the Shiite sect and that is why he went to Iran to visit the shrine of Fatima,” Yusuf Nalaband told Hardnews. Nalaband, a marketing executive, was released recently when no evidence was found against him. 

Muthiur Rehman and Nalaband were released by the NIA, absolved of all charges. Aijaz Mishra is also out on bail. But the scars of prison and condemnation remain.

The FIR in the case claims that Muthiur Rehman and his three ‘associates’, Yusuf Nalaband, Aijaz Ahmad Mirza and Riyaz Ahmed, were picked up at 3.30 pm after the interrogation of Shoaib Mirza and Abdul Hakeem who were arrested when they were allegedly waiting for journalist Pratap Simha to kill him. All this, according to the FIR, happened at 12.30 pm. The police also claimed to have recovered a 7.65 mm pistol from the accused.  Surprisingly, according to the FIR, a very swift police team took the accused to the interrogation centre, grilled them, and at 3.30 pm arrested the other four from JC Nagar, all within a span of just three hours. A dagger and some ‘jihadi’ literature is all that was confiscated from the house of such ‘hardened’ terrorists. 

 Journalist Muthiur Rehman and marketing executive Yusuf Nalaband were released by the NIA, absolved of all charges. DRDO engineer Aijaz Mirza is also out on bail. But the scars of prison and condemnation remain

Later, others were arrested, including one ObaidurRehman who is a relative of Maulana Naseeruddin, a controversial cleric. All four of the Maulana’s sons have faced ‘terror charges’. Mohd Yasser and Mohd Jabir, were acquitted in a case in Indore in 2012 after spending four years in prison. The Maulana himself spent close to five years in prison on charges of being involved in the controversial Haren Pandya murder case in Gujarat. He is currently out on bail. (Indeed, Pandya’s wife (and late father) have directly accused Narendra Modi of complicity in the murder of this top BJP leader and minister in the Gujarat government. Pandya also reportedly testified to a tribunal about Modi’s role in the Gujarat carnage of 2002.)

“Had they come at 3.30 pm nobody would have been there for all of us work and go to offices,” says Muthiur Rehman. “We were first taken to the palace grounds where we were served breakfast in the vehicle itself,” he recalls. “Later, we were taken to an interrogation centre in Madiwala where four people were kept in one 4x8 cubicle. Another person named Mohammad Akram, who is from Nanded, was beaten up badly from August 29 to September 1. Thereby it was shown that he was arrested on September 1 from the railway station when he was trying to flee Bengaluru.” “Multiple agencies would come and ask us all kinds of questions. It was a terrifying experience,” says Aijaz Mirza.

“There was nothing in the police story from the beginning. After a couple of days they scanned through thousands of email conversations of Rehman, Nalaband, Mirza and others and found nothing; and yet, they kept Rehman and Nalaband for six months,” says Akmal Rizvi, a lawyer who defended the accused. “Even in Aijaz Mirza’s case, there was nothing that they could find. They are not discharging him because there is one email which contains a well known internet virus called love.docx which they have not been able to check so far. They have sent it for examination to CFSL.” 

Meanwhile, Rehman and Mirza have gone back to Hubli and Nalaband is in Bagalkot. When Hardnews spoke to them they cited extreme mental agony after their horrifying experience in custody. “I am not in a perfect state of mind and that is why I am not going to Bengaluru,” says Rehman, adding that Deccan Herald has assured that the newspaper will take him back.

Mirza, an engineer who was working with DRDO, says that the apex defence organization is yet to contact him. “They have still not cleared my name. Even while my name doesn’t figure in the first chargesheet, they might file a supplementary chargesheet with my name. My brother’s name already figures in the first chargesheet,” he says.

‘They are not discharging him because there is one email which contains a well known internet virus called love.docx which they have not been able to check so far’ 

Meanwhile, NIA, which is now handling the case, has filed a chargesheet recently on charges of criminal conspiracy and creating disharmony between two communities, among other charges. It also mentions the recovery of two Italian Berreta pistols from the accused still in jail even as it failed to trace the origin of the weapons. Also, 10 people named in the chargesheet are said to be not in India. The investigative agency fails to mention why it did not visit those countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to investigate the case and instead chose to rely on custodial confessions of the accused. The case is mostly based on email exchange. “It is quite possible that one of them may have sent some stupid email unknowingly. These days everything is under watch and there are multiple agencies at work. You don’t know  what stupidity can land you in trouble,” says lawyer Rizvi.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2013