In its judgment dated 16th May 2014, on the Akshardham terror attack case, the Supreme Court of India stated that the “POTA was repealed for the gross violation of human rights it caused to the accused persons due to abuse of power by the police” (Para 73, Emphasis mine). POTA or the Prevention of Terrorism Act was infamous for its provisions that allowed the Police to use draconian powers, to frame innocent people as terrorists. Police has to merely obtain a confession from the suspect, and that confession will be sufficient proof to even award death penalty to the suspect. No doubt, the law demanded corroboration of such confession made to a police officer under POTA. In the above referred judgment pronounced by Supreme Court after hearing the appeal against concurrent judgments of conviction from the POTA court and Gujarat High Court, it was noticed that the corroboration was achieved by more confessions obtained from persons who claimed to be accomplices of the accused.
At least some of the readers might be wondering why the Supreme Court decided to set aside the death penalty awarded to three persons and life/rigorous imprisonment to another three, in such a notorious case as terrorist attack of Akshardham temple. After all, the courts below have only punished the suspects based on their own confessions. Therefore, it becomes necessary to see how these confessions were obtained by the police. I will not discuss the details of the case or the judgment as I have already included them in my previous post on the subject. I will merely excerpt the retraction statement of one of the accused, Mr. Ajmeri Suleman Adam the accused no. 2, reproduced by the Supreme Court in its judgment:
“I, Ajmeri Suleman Adam, state in writing that five to six officers of Ahmedabad City Crime Branch from Gaekwad haveli came in maruti car at the corner of my mohalla at about 1.30-2.00 in the night and they called me. They asked my name and occupation. I told the officers that I am rickshaw driver. They told me to sit in our maruti car. We have to take you for enquiry. They told me that the rickshaw which them that the rickshaw that I drive is not be theft. He has owner. Then the officer abused me, beat me and seated me in the car by coercion. I was taken into the crime branch office at night they tied a strip on eyes and placed me at such a place that I do not know. Then I could not sleep for whole night. I was thinking that I have not done any wrong. Then why I was brought here, then on 10-8-2003, on next day at 1.00 noon a constable came and told me to come with him as higher officer call you. At that time a strip tied on my eyes. The constable caught me and put in an office and opened the strip from my eyes. I saw four officer sitting there. Shri Vanzara, DCP Shri Singhal, ACP Shri Vanar PI and Shri patel PI, I came to know afterwards that these officers are from crime branch. Shri DCP Vanzara asked me whether I know after works that these officers are from crime branch. Shri DCP Vanzara asked me whether I know why I was brought here. I replied that you other officers told me that the rickshaw that I drive is by thefts and I am to be asked about it. He told me that I was not brought here for that crime but for other crime. I told that I not have made such crime that I should be brought here. Then Singhal Sahib abused me and told that should agree to what they say. I should agree that I am the criminal of Akshardham carnage. I told them that I have never gone to Akshardgam nor have I seen it. Kindly do not involve me. He immediately called five or six persons and told me to have handcuffs and fetters. Vanar Saheb beat me on soles. Shri Singhal Saheb told me that I agree with the crime of Askhardham, they shall not beat me and have some benefits. Then they beat me in such a way that I became unconscious and fell down. ..
...When I became conscious I was near Vanar Saheb office. I suffered much difficulty. I was weeping. It was night. At that time one constable came and told me that superior sahib was calling. I had no strength to walk or stand. I was caught and taken to Vanzara Saheb office. All four officers were present there. They told me to agree the crime, otherwise I shall be encountered. But I did not believe. Then they brutally beat me. There was bleeding in back portion....They gave me currents. Then I told them, sir, have mercy on me. I am not culprit. Pardon me. Please don’t make me criminal wrongly. I do not know anything in this regard. They threatened me to harass me and my family members. Even though I have not committed any crime, they wanted to agree Akshardham crime.”
(emphasis laid by this Court)
(translation extracted from the Additional
documents submitted on behalf of the State of Gujarat)”
A-2 further stated:
“One day Singhal Saheb called me to office and asked me to do as we say. I know that you are a good congress worker. The relief materials received from congress at the time of godhra episode were distributed among Muslims and poor persons as said by congress leader you contested as an independent candidate in 1998. We know that congress candidate was defeated and BJP candidate won the election. You made a case against BJP in the High Court. The case was extended to Supreme Court but you could not do anything. What shall you able to do now....
...I was harshly beaten from 9-8-2003 to 28-8-2003 without my fault and behaved rudely.
...Singhal Saheb came to my office at night (29-8-2003) and told me, “We have declared you as criminal. We shall take you to court and present before Judge. You should not speak anything against us, otherwise we shall get you down on the way and encounter you. You shall not come alive. Then I requested Vanzara Saheb, Singhal Saheb, Vanar Saheb and Patel Saheb that you have beaten the truth and placed lying in a higher position......They told me to sign where they say...
...They threatened me and presented to the court . Hon.Court gave remand. During court, I was in crime branch. Shri Vanzara Saheb, Singhal Saheb, Vanar Saheb and Patel Saheb behaved with me as if I am an animal. During that time, I was taken to VS Hospital. They told me one thing that I should not narrate my difficulties to the Doctor, otherwise I shall be harassed like anything. I should say to the doctor I am healthy and I shall get treatment from the private doctor who comes in crime branch for any trouble. ...
....Singhal Saheb seated me in his office on 4-9-03 at night and told me to write in my handwritings as he says, otherwise I shall be finished. I went to writing as he stated. I have not written this willingly but as per wish of Singhal Saheb. If I would not have written so, I would have been encountered on that very day or night. I was frightened and I wrote on account of fear. I was taken to Ahmedabad airport on 5-9-03. Vanzara Saheb, Patel Saheb, AA Chauhan Saheb and other three PSI s were with me....IG Shrinagar called me on 7-9-03. At that time three officers of Shrinagar were present. He told me to tell the truth. Then I told on oath of kuran-sharif true facts. I was arrested on 9-8-03. Till them I am beaten. I do not know anything about Akshardham. They have threatened my family members and threatened me to encounter. I have been forced to agree to the crime. I told officers of Shrinagar to help me, otherwise these officers shall kill me. Then they told me that we also know that you are innocent...
.....I reached to Ahmedabad on 9-9-03....Then I was taken to POTA Court. Prior to it Singhal and Vanar Saheb told me that I was to be taken to the Court. “If you complain, you shall not be kept alive. You might not be knowing what we can do. We can take out prisoner from the Central Jail and encounter him, while you are with us. Latif was in jail. We brought him out and killed. What can you do against us.” I was not allowed to speak anything in the Court...I was taken on 23-9-2003 with strips on my eyes. I was told that Doctor had come for my treatment. ..I was given two injections on my right hand....On the next day I told them that I have many difficulties on account of your injections. Then Vanar Saheb and Patel Saheb told me that our work is over and I am not required now. On 25-9-03, Vanar Saheb, Singhal Saheb and other officers seated me in a jeep and took me to old high court. Singhal Saheb and vanar Saheb informed me that here in big judge. You should sign where he says, otherwise you know what we can do. Here court is ours, Govt. is ours, polics is ours and judge sahib is also ours. I was taken to judge sahib room. There were some written papers. I do not know what was written in it. Without allowing me to read anything judge sahib and crime branch officers took my signatures thereon.....Singhal,Vanar and other officers at in judge hamber. They took snacks and tea. After one hour all officers came out smiling saying our work is over. We shall present him in Pota court and send them to Central Jail....
...I request you that since last two months I remained in crime branch as helpless and humble....
...If you want the truth in this case to be revealed, hand over the case to CBI officers. It is my humble request to you to hand over the investigation to the CBI and truth shall be revealed to you. Sir, when I was sent to central jail I told the jail authorities that I required treatment...
...I am hopeful that you shall prevent me and my family from ruin and do justice. I am hopeful that you shall do justice to me and my family after considering my request.”
(emphasis laid by this Court)
(translation extracted from the Additional
documents submitted on behalf of the State of
Gujarat)” (Para 115)
The above narration, by a person who had to undergo over ten years of imprisonment and the mental torture from a death penalty hanging over his head, must open the eyes of every concerned citizen. We can easily ignore this by stating that it is the fate of someone else from somewhere else and it does not concern us. Probably, until the year 2003, Ajmeri Suleman Adam also must have shared the same views. Like what befall upon Ajmeri Suleman Adam on a fine day in 2003, this can happen to any one of us, irrespective of who we are. Obtaining a confession under torture or threat of an encounter must be an easy task for any police team, who are not concerned about the repercussions or principles of law. A police officer who wants to seek the glory of solving a high profile case, or a Home Minister or Chief Minister who wants to project a non-nonsense image in matters of internal security might find one of us convenient, to be picked up and charged with a crime of terror.
The Akshardham case is an eye opener in many sense. Our police in its current form is not credible enough to be entrusted with draconian powers. This case shows how the police and state can terrorize innocent citizens, for their narrow and selfish objectives. Let me again quote the Supreme Court here:
“We intend to take note of the perversity in conducting this case at various stages, right from the investigation level to the granting of sanction by the state government to prosecute the accused persons under POTA, the conviction and awarding of sentence to the accused persons by the Special Court (POTA) and confirmation of the same by the High Court. We, being the apex court cannot afford to sit with folded hands when such gross violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights of the citizens of this country were presented before us” (Para 131).
If you are one of those who advocate POTA like laws (I still find many of them), consider yourself, for a second, in the shoes of Ajmeri Suleman Adam. Would you not prefer to be a victim of cross-border terrorism, rather than of state sponsored terror in the name of counter-terrorism? At least, in the former case, you will not be branded and condemned as a traitor of your own nation and people!
1. The errors appearing the excerpts are part of the original translation. All emphasis in the excerpt are by the Supreme Court.
2. For the full judgment, you may visit http://www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in/outtoday/Crl.AppealNo.2295-2296of2010.pdf