Media, police should be more sensitive toward Dalits, Muslims: Siddiqui
February 27, 2013
“If I was the mastermind, then why are the others still in jail?”
A day after his release from jail, 26-year-old journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui has accused the police of harbouring an “institutional bias” against the Muslim community. “If I wasn’t Muslim, they would never have held me [on charges of being part of a terror module],” he said at a packed press conference here on Tuesday.
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He said, “The media forgot the ‘A’ in the ABC of Journalism [Accuracy-Brevity-Clarity].”
Mr. Siddiqui was arrested by the Crime Branch of the Bangalore Police, along with 14 others, in August 2012 on charges of plotting to assassinate prominent Hindutva leaders as well as some journalists. The National Investigation Agency, which later took over the case, found no evidence against either Mr. Siddiqui or Yusuf Nalband in their charge sheet.
Pleading the case of the other 13 still in jail, Mr. Siddiqui said, “According to the [Bangalore] police and the media, I am the mastermind. If I am the mastermind, why are the others still in jail? I hope they too will get justice.” He said journalism was his passion and he wanted to continue. Asked if he would sue the police, he said, “I haven’t thought about that. I want to spend time with my family first.”
He also alleged that the police did not follow protocol during his arrest. “They did not inform our families. They did not tell us what we were being arrested for. They made us sign 30-40 blank sheets of paper. One of these papers was used to create fake, back-dated arrest intimation.”
Mr. Nalband (28), the technician who was released along with Mr. Siddiqui, was reticent during the press conference. He later told The Hindu, “I could not sleep the whole of last [Monday] night. I had all kinds of thoughts. I am not sure if life will be normal again. I am hoping I can get back to my life, God willing.”
He also alleged that the Hyderabad police, who assisted the Bangalore police during the arrests, forced the accused to wear Islamic skull caps before taking them out of the house where they were arrested. “I don’t know why they did that,” he said.
On August 29 2012, five youths were picked up from their homes in a Muslim locality in Bangalore by the Central Crime Branch of the Karnataka police in connection with a terror plot. Once the news went out that among those arrested were Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddique, a journalist from Deccan Herald and a DRDO scientist, Aijaz Ahmed Mirza, and they had alleged plans to kill prominent right leaning persons, it sent shock waves across the state. Now, six months down the line, NIA has filed a chargesheet in the case, not before dropping charges against two of the twelve accused, including journalist Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddique. And as the things stand, the defense counsel of the accused claims that the charges levelled by NIA are mostly not prosecutable in nature.
A total of 25 people have been accused in the case, out of them close to 10 are absconding and have gone abroad, two have been dropped from the chargesheet, and for another two, including the DRDO scientist, the chargesheet is yet to be filed. The NIA, which took over the investigation from the Bangalore police on 25 November 2012, has filed a 65-page chargesheet in which they accuse them of being activists of Lashkar-e-Toiba and HuJI, who had plans to kill journalist Pratap Simha, Vishweshwar Bhat, editor of Kannada Prabha, Karnataka MP Prahlad Joshi and Ganu Jartarkar, an activist of the Hindu Jagran Vedike. Unlike the FIR, the chargesheet also accuses them of having made plans to even target police officers Dayanand (Joint Commissioner-East), Krishnam Raju and ACP Nyame Gowda. Incidentally, Dayanand was the head of investigations in the case before the NIA took over.
The chargesheet rests its case mainly on cyber forensic evidence (mostly email exchanges between the accused), 181 witnesses and confessional statements of the accused. Though, the chargesheet claims that the police had seized two Italian Beretta pistols from the accused from the crime scene, they however, have not been able to establish, from whom the accused purchased the weapon from. In the chargesheet it just mentions that, an ‘unknown person’ gave the weapon. Neither were the police able to explore and trace the entire network of how the alleged terrorists, who happen to be students in the age group of 20s, were able to get such sophisticated weapons. The chargesheet further claims, during the subsequent interrogation of the accused, that they were able to seize weapons from the accused’s house; however, the weapons listed are mostly ‘air pistols’, which the police claim was initially used for target practicing.
While the chargesheet claims that a huge cache of cyber forensic evidence has been procured by the police, including email exchanges and material procured from the hard disk, the evidence produced consists mostly of materials which is commonly available on the internet including, ‘videos of the American occupation in Afghanistan’, books on Islam and religion in general, articles – ‘who are Taliban’, and a general history of ‘French revolution and Great Wall of China’. The chargesheet however, shows a ‘Microsoft word document’, which it claims it intercepted from one of the email exchanges, which has a list of people to be targeted along with their pictures. In the evidence, the chargesheet claims that the actual planning was a coded message wherein the accused had laid out their nefarious plan. Defense Lawyer Sultan Beary says that the coded messages were how the police were reading into it. “They were attending a marriage and most of the conversations are of that,” he said.
The chargesheet also names close to ten people as absconding and residing in the Gulf States. However it is silent on why even after six months, they haven’t been able to extradite any of the accused, including the alleged ‘mastermind’ Zakir alias Ustad (Shaheed Faisal). Neither has the police mentioned whether they made any effort for extradition, and what were its results.
Since the NIA has taken over the case, the charge of ‘waging war against the state’ has also been dropped and they are currently been charged for criminal conspiracy, creating enmity between people and for dacoity.
Whether the police will finally be able to prove their case or if the alleged accused did in fact indulge in anti-national activities, it will take time for the courts to decide. However, it is feared that, by the time a decision will be reached in their case, a couple of years of their life will be lost in prison.