The Bombay High Court, while reserving its order on the bail plea of a Parbhani resident who was arrested on charges of being an ISIS recruit in India, noted that for years the trials do not end and the accused keep languishing in jail.
Iqbal Ahmed Kabir Ahmed, who was arrested on August 7, 2016, in a case registered by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police, was initially not in the FIR as the investigation had commenced on source-based information of police personnel. But a few days later, as the investigation unfolded, he was arrested and has been behind bars for nearly five years now.
The division bench of Justice SS Shinde and Justice NJ Jamadar pointed to the Malegaon 2008 blast case, where in spite of orders from the High Court as well as the Supreme Court to expedite the trial, nothing much had happened.
Justice Shinde said the Covid-19 pandemic has paralysed the system as well. “Local trains are the lifeline of Mumbai. Because lawyers are not being allowed on a train, cases are pending. The cumulative effect is that the accused are languishing in jail. ‘N’ number of times we have directed, the Supreme court has ordered the Malegaon hearing to be expedited. But see what is happening,” said Justice Shinde.
The case against Ahmed and others accused of having links with ISIS has not yet begun and the next date of hearing is July 20.
Aruna Pai, the special public prosecutor for NIA, informed the court that there was no delay from the prosecution, but the accused had filed many applications which delayed the trial. She said that there were about 75-80 witnesses who would be examined in the case, but the trial cannot be held on a day-to-day basis.
Advocate Mihir Desai, appearing for Ahmed, pointed out that “in the next 6 months, there were 112 working days and so, despite the best efforts, it is just not possible for the trial to get over. That is reality.”
Ahmed’s plea has stated that twice during the investigation he was handed over notice under Section 160 to appear as a witness before the investigating officer and he voluntarily appeared each time. Yet, he was arrested.
He has claimed that the only evidence on record against him is that he was aware of the alleged preparation of an improvised explosive device (IED) by two other accused in the case.
Desai pleaded for Ahmed’s bail, stating that was a young man with a young child. “There is no evidence against him and that it is not even the prosecution’s case that his actions led to any death. He did not leave India to participate with ISIS either,” the lawyer said.
Ahmed was chargesheeted by the ATS on October 7, 2016, and the case was later transferred to the National Investigating Agency (NIA) which also filed a supplementary chargesheet in the case. The chargesheet runs into more than 2000 pages.
Aruna Pai opposed the bail plea, stating that there is ample evidence against Ahmed. She produced the notification for the ban of ISIS that was passed by the Indian government on February 16, 2015. She told the court that the other two accused in the case had brought the material to prepare the IED and it was being put together in Ahmed’s house.
The NIA prosecutor asked If Iqbal Ahmed had no connection to the case, then how come the oath of ISIS was found in his house. In the oath, ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s name was mentioned. “Though it is not in his handwriting it shows the nexus of this accused with the other two accused in the case,” said Pai.
She further said that there was also evidence of Ahmed discussing about ISIS with a co-accused. But Justice Shinde remarked, “In rural areas, at the chai tapri, youth sit and discuss everything from the village politics to Delhi politics to Trump. And in this discussion, everything is exaggerated. These young people might be educated but sometimes, due to unemployment they sit and discuss.”
However, Pai pointed, “This was not a discussion between people on a chai tapri. This is dangerous.”
Desai replied to this by adding, “Advocacy does not mean participation.”