How many people remember today Canadian-Syrian Maher Arar, a softward engineer, whose travails and tribulations at the hands of the US government’s extraordinary rendition programme had shaken many people then.
Just to recapitulate he was seized by CIA operatives during a stopover at New York in 2002 and was secretly sent to Syria.Lodged in a grave like cell in Syria, Arar was repeatedly tortured to extract information which he did not know. Ultimately his tormentors released him within a span of year and half without ever being charged with a crime. As we can gather Maher Arar became a victim of the Islamophobia manufactured by the likes of Bush-Blair in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
All those people who are familiar with the stigmatisation and terrorisation of a people and a community in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 attack can recount many such stories of miscarriage of justice, innocents being lodged in jail for years together and the tragedies which befell their families.
The case of Maher Arar was unique in many ways in the sense that because of the tremendous uproar in the Canadian society over this issue, Stephen Harper, then Prime Minister of Canada sought public apology for the ordeal which Maher went through and for the role played by Canadian officials in the whole affair . The Canadian government also gave him nine million dollars as compensation. Mr Harper said in full public view of the media
“On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you, Monia Mazigh (Arar’s wife) and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003.”
Maher’s forgotten saga recently came to my mind when one heard the ordeal through which the Akshardham Six went through for more than eleven years for no fault of theirs. Much has been written on these six innocents who were ultimately released by the intervention of the Supreme Court. (http://kafila.org/2014/05/18/thinking-about-adam-ajmeris-in-saffron-times/#comments)
All the six were arrested for their alleged support to the terrorists who died in the Akshardham terror attack. It was September 25, 2002 and the famous Akshardham temple in Ahmedabad came under attack. Two fidayeens sprayed bullets from their Ak-56 rifles and used hand grenades to kill 33 persons and injured another 86 before at Akshardham Temple before being killed by NSG commandos . A trial court had awarded death sentence to three of them, life imprisonment to two and 10-year imprisonment to remaining man. Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri, Abdul Qaiyum Muftisaab Mohmed Bhai and AChand Khan were sentenced to death in July 2006 by the special POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) court set up to try the terror case. While Mohammed Salim Shaikh was sentenced to life imprisonment (entire life), Abdulmiyan Qadri was given a 10-year term and Altaf Hussain was awarded five year imprisonment. The high court had later confirmed the sentence.
While acquitting the accused, the Apex Court pulled up the Gujarat Police for framing “innocent” people in the case and accused the then Gujarat Home Minister of “non-application of mind” in granting sanction to prosecute the six under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). As an aside it need be mentioned that Mr Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat, handled the home portfolio then.
Like all his co-accused the world of Abdul Qaiyum Muftisaab Mohammed Bhai alias Mufti Abdul Qaiyum has changed completely in the 11 years that he spent in jail. His father is dead, and his family no longer lives in their old home.In a press conference held in Delhi Mufti Abdul Qayum, whose death sentence by the trial court in Gujarat was quashed by the Apex court – recounted how he was forced to sign the confessional statement prepared by the police under coercion. Qaiyum said the main charge against him was that two letters recovered from the two fidayeen killed in the terror attack had been written by him. He was framed, Qaiyum alleged.
“The police tortured and forced me to write the letters. They claimed the letters were found from the pockets of the fidayeen killed during the attack. But the Supreme Court noticed that the letters were clean, not torn, or soiled/stained with blood or soil — which was highly unnatural and improbable as the terrorists’ bodies were covered with blood and mud, and their clothes had multiple tears and holes due to the bullets,”
Mohammed Saleem, another accused who was working in Saudi Arabia for 13 years, told the press how he was picked up alleging there was a problem with my passport
They beat me brutally — I still have scars on my back, and I suffered a fracture in my foot. They asked me which case I wanted to be charged under — Akshardham, Haren Pandya or Godhra. I did not know what to say,”
All the acquitted accused now plan to file a plea in the apex court to probe the role of the investigating officer for pressing false charges against them and also demand for compensation.
“Section 58(1) and (2) of POTA has provision to act against the investigating officer for levelling false charges and also the remedy to demand for compensation. We would like to avail these remedies,” another acquitted accused Mohammed Salim told us.
“We want a through probe to be done against the then crime branch Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), G L Singhal and the then Crime Branch Chief, DG Vanzara. They wrongly booked us in the case,” said Salim.
Rare are the occasions when people decide to elect you as their leader expressing faith in your ability to govern and the highest courts of the country give a damning verdict questioning that very ability. Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi, who took oath of office as Prime Minister of India and has promised to forge a “”strong and inclusive” India after being sworn in, happens to be such a person. It is a strange coincidence that the day on which election results were out (16 th May) giving BJP led by him “historic victory” in the elections to the Parliament, happened to be the day when the Supreme Court delivered its another “historic judgement”
While he assumes office as PM to with eyes firmly set in the future for him the Akshardham attack and its aftermath are definitely a thing of the past but for all the innocent Akshardham Six – it is still part of their present and would continue to cast its shadows over their future. As one of them put it very succinctly, for them the acquittal was “mere release from prison” they know very well that ” justice had been buried at every moment in these 11 years”.
And the whole case is just a tip of iceberg. There are thousands of cases of innocents languishing in jail for no fault of theirs, serving jail terms for crimes they never committed. A callous polity, a compromised executive and an apathetic civil society has led us to a situation where the real guilty are rarely caught.
It is definitely time for a healing process to begin.
It is definitely time to make amends for one’s bad judgments.
It is time that PM Narendra Modi, decides to do a Harper.