Civil Society urges GOI to challenge Mecca Masjid blast case judgment

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: May 23, 2018
The controversial April 16 judgment by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court which acquitted all those accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, is once again in the news. Almost 40 civil society members including Dr. John Dayal, AS Vasantha Kumari, Dr. Irfan Engineer, Fr Cedric Prakash, Khalida Parveen and Dr. Ram Punyani, have written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, as well as the NIA, to appeal against the NIA Court judgment. They have also petitioned the government to look into the lapses in the investigation and prosecution.

Mecca masjid Blast
Image: India TV
The letter says that the NIA Court judgment had, “…shocked the citizens of Hyderabad as NIA failed to provide justice to victims in a terror case after a lengthy investigation of 11 years. This clearly shows the lack of preparation, commitment and dedication of the agency to fight against the terrorism.”
The civil society members have a few recommendations for the Home Minister. In their letter they say, “The government should immediately order an enquiry into the manner in which the whole investigation in this case was conducted and whether evidence collected by NIA since the beginning of investigation was placed before the court and what steps were taken by NIA for safeguarding the evidence, material records and witnesses in the case. Responsibility may be fixed for lapses in the prosecution of the case at every stage and civil and criminal action may be initiated against those found guilty of dereliction of duties and destruction of evidence.” 
The petitioners have also requested a retrial in the matter saying, “The government should ask the Attorney General of India to examine the trial court's order and tender advice within two weeks for taking necessary legal action including filing of a request for retrial of the case and an appeal in the concerned appellate court. NIA may be directed to take necessary legal action accordingly expeditiously within the limitation period.” 
The entire letter may be read here.
Brief Background of the Mecca Masjid Blast
On May 18, 2007, a pipe bomb exploded in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, killing at least eight people, and wounding more than 50 people. Reports indicate that more than 10,000 people were in the mosque at the time of the explosion. Five other people were also killed when the police "opened fire" after there were riots during Friday prayers on that day. Police also recovered and defused two other live IEDs.
Ten people, all allegedly belonging to the right-wing Hindu organisation Abhinav Bharat, were accused in the case. These included Nabakumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma alias Ajay Tiwari, Mohanlal Rateshwar and Rajender Chowdhary. Two accused–Sandeep Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra–are still absconding. One of the accused, RSS official Sunil Joshi, was murdered during the investigation.
Wrongful detention of Muslim Youth
The Hyderabad Police conducted an initial probe, and reportedly detained more than 50 Muslim youth during the investigation. A fact-finding panel with the state’s minority commission found that the youth were illegally confined and tortured by the police. The youth were all subsequently acquitted, and, as per the National Minority Commission’s recommendation, the state government handed out monetary compensation to them. In September 2013, the Andhra Pradesh High Court set aside the compensation paid to the youth. 
Case goes from local police to CBI to NIA and finally in court
Following the police probe, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the Mecca Masjid blast case and filed a chargesheet. In April 2011, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the case. The trial, which concluded in April 2018, took place at the IV Additional Metropolitan Session Court, a special NIA court, at Hyderabad’s Namapally court complex. The prosecution was led by the NIA’s Chief Public Prosecutor N. Harinath, who interviewed 226 witnesses64 witnesses, including Lt. Col. Shrikant Purohit, turned hostile during the trial. Purohit alleged that neither the CBI nor the NIA recorded his statement. 
Aseemanand’s Confession and Retraction
Swami Aseemanand, who was present at the Namapally court today, was arrested by the CBI in November 2010 in Haridwar over his alleged involvement in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast. In December 2010, Aseemanand confessed to plotting the 2006 Malegaon blasts, February 2007’s Samjhauta Express blast, May 2007’s Mecca Masjid blast, and October 2007’s Ajmer Sharif blast, and also implicated certain RSS officials. 
In January 2011, following the news of Aseemanand’s confession, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad alleged that the Congress-led government was attempting to "malign the image of Hindu leaders by terming them as terrorists," saying it was the "greatest lie" that Aseemanand had confessed. An editorial in the RSS’ 'Organiser' said it was "…intriguing that only persons named in alleged Hindu radicalism seem to be making 'confessions'," adding, "We have not heard of a Kasab or Afzal Guru or captured jehadi, terrorist making such a confession. Are they so tight-lipped?"
However, in March 2011, Aseemanand submitted a letter to an Ajmer court saying, "I have been pressurized mentally and physically by the investigating agencies to confess that I was behind these blasts." He also alleged that the investigative agencies, such as the NIA and the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) were involving his family members in the case, and accused Rajasthan’s ATS unit of not allowing him to engage a lawyer. 
Other evidence
Forensic reports from the NIA indicated a link between the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts, the 2007 Ajmer Sharif and Mecca Masjid blasts, the 2008 Modasa and the 2006 Samjhauta Express blasts. In March 2017, Aseemanand was acquitted in the Ajmer Dargah blast case, and later granted bail in the Mecca Masjid blast case.