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'Bring out white paper on Parliament Attack'

Oct 19, 2006:

Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani may be a free man today, campaigning for a fair trial for Afzal Guru, but he has stood there along with Afzal as a convict in 2001 Parliament attack case, sentenced to death and portrayed by media as the kingpin of the attack. Acquitted by the Delhi High Court and Supreme Court of India, Geelani says he is no longer a free man and talks about the ‘miscarriage of justice’ in the case in an exclusive interview with Kashmir Newz.

S A R Geelani
S A R Geelani
KN: You have been associated with this case right from the beginning. You have been stressing on the lack of a fair trial for Afzal Guru. Can you explain?

SAR: Look, the structure of a case is built in a lower court, in a trial court. The bases are laid there. You can examine witness there, you can examine evidences. This is the very crucial period for any case. In Afzal’s case there was no one to represent him at this stage. He had no lawyer. And if you go by Indian laws the court was bound to provide him a lawyer of his choice, which they haven’t. They never did.

And at one point when Afzal was not given a lawyer after many applications then the Judge asked Afzal to cross examine witnesses and evidences on his own. I believe the Judge was making a mockery of Mohammad Afzal by asking him to cross examine himself. In fact he was making mockery of the whole procedure.

I believe this because cross examination in a criminal case is a highly technical thing. Even ordinary lawyers not familiar with criminal procedure cannot do that job unless trained in criminal law. It needs specialized criminal lawyers. So how could Mohammad Afzal who did not know the a b c of law.

KN: Why in the first place did he not have a lawyer?

SAR: The first reason Mohammad Afzal told the court was that he cannot engage a lawyer as the fee of the lawyers was very high. And Afzal came from a poor background.

The second thing was that in police custody we were all subject to media trial. Mohammad Afzal was brought in front of the media and forced to confess and tell the whole world that he was involved in the case. The media confession was later thrown out by Supreme Court as it was taken under duress. But that media trial prejudiced the whole atmosphere against us. The Bar Association of Delhi barred its members from representing our case. It was difficult for any of us to get a lawyer.

KN: And what was the status of your case?

SAR: Same was the case with me. The first crucial period of any criminal case is framing of charges. I had a lawyer but he was not even aware of the whole situation. He had never met me. It was not good for me also but it was worse for Mohammed Afzal because he had no lawyer.

KN: So you got a death sentence there?

SAR: Yes we all got a death sentence in the POTA court. And it was later referred to the High Court where death sentence of Mohammed Afzal and Shaukat Guru was confirmed. The high court acquitted me and Afshan Guru saying there was no evidence linking me to the case.

In the High Court Afzal had a lawyer, a human rights lawyer Colin Gonsalves, but unfortunately Colin misrepresented Afzal at one point by submitting an affidavit on his behalf that Afzal wanted to die though a lethal injection and not by hanging. This was misrepresentation. Afzal came to know of this only through newspapers. When you put such an argument, it amounts to conceding.

Even in Supreme Court Mr. Shanti Bhushan who was representing Afzal began his argument by saying that everyone standing here is innocent except Afzal. He went on like this so much so that Justice Reddy interrupted and asked him to clarify if he was representing Afzal and Shaukat or if he was confirming the death sentence.

KN: Apart from the lack of proper legal help what was the status of other factors. What was for instance the role of investigating agencies?

SAR: The whole case was built on a confessional statement in front of the media which Supreme Court concluded was taken by coercion and hence inadmissible. The High Court has itself stated that the investigation has been shoddy and the evidence has been fabricated. One the basis of this kind of evidence, how can you sentence someone to death. In Indian laws the death sentence is given only in rarest of rare cases and only when the guilt is established beyond doubt. Here in this case, the court itself puts question mark on the investigation process.

KN: Coming back to media confession you say it was by coercion. Can you explain? Was it taken in front of you?

SAR: It was not taken in front of me, but what happened that they first came to me and tried to extract the confession out of me through torture. They subjected me to third degree physical torture for days together telling me to accept it. I told them they cannot get anything out of me.

Then when they couldn’t get it out of physical torture they abducted my family, my wife, my kids were taken into custody, and they subjected me to psychological torture, forced my wife to prevail on me and pressurise into confession and ask me to do what ever they want or my family would be in danger. I explained to my wife that this was just a ploy to malign the movement of Kashmir. This was all happening in the backdrop of 9/11. I told them that whatever you do you can. I have not committed any crime so I won’t accept it.

So when they did not succeed in getting a confession out of me they went and tried on others and got it.

KN: Then you say you were subject to media trial. Do you think that Afzal is still subject to media trial?

SAR: Of course, you see the media confession was thrown out by the Supreme Court. The court clearly says the confession was taken by coercion, but the TV channels play those images every time there is news of Afzal or Parliament attack. Afzal proclaiming to the world that he had done it.

Again the courts have maintained that Afzal has not been a member of any terror group still the media continues to call him a Jaish operative.

KN: If the confessional statement was thrown out, on what basis was he given a death sentence?

SAR: Afzal has been given a death sentence under IPC for murder and conspiracy. The Supreme Court says there is no direct evidence against him, there is some circumstantial evidence. I have always said that if he had been represented by a competent lawyer at the trial court, these circumstances would have never been against him, e.g one of the circumstances that goes against him is that he has identified the bodies of parliament attackers. The Supreme Court admitted the witness of a policeman as truth who stated in trial court that Afzal had identified the men. The witness was not cross examined at the trial court, and in High Court and Supreme Court there is no such procedure. Cross examination takes place at trial court where Afzal had no lawyer.

KN: Afzal’s family has filed a clemency petition. You say that this is not a mercy petition?

SAR: It is not a clemency petition as clemency petition is conceded in traditional way. It is not that Afzal is accepting his guilt. Here in this petition we have pointed out that this man has not been given justice and there is an appeal for a fair trial. It is a legal procedure under Article 72.

KN: You say that Afzal did not get a fair trial, how come you were acquitted by the same court?

SAR: I have maintained that the Supreme Court did not do full justice even to me. If the Supreme Court or High court says that I am innocent and that I have been framed, then under the same laws it should have booked people who framed me. It should have taken action against them but that was not done. After stating that the police has fabricated the evidence, there is not even a stricture against police.

KN: You have come a long way through this trial?

SAR: Life has changed completely. I am no longer a free man. I have chains around me. I was a free man before the arrest. But today, the way media projected me I am recognised as a terrorist. That image still stays with me. I cannot move freely, with my family. My face is a known one. I feel I am doing injustice to my kids as I cannot move freely with them. I don’t at times want them to be identified with me.

KN: You say you were framed and the whole investigation process was shoddy. What in your opinion was the motive behind it?

SAR: I think the whole motive of the police and the government was to malign the movement of Kashmir. It happens only after 9/11. If you see that few days before the attack Mr Advani who was then home minister, says that any moment our parliament may be attacked!

Then you catch hold of a few Kashmiris and you link it to Kashmir. And this attack is condemned by the whole world including people in Kashmir, including the organisations to which it was attributed to.

KN: Do you suggest the attack itself was carried by Indian agencies?

SAR: I think say Indian people still do not know who really the attackers were. People of India were only told that five people were killed and they were Pakistanis. That is all. The Court said they were Pakistanis because nobody claimed their bodies here. Mr Advani said at that time that they were Pakistanis because they look like Pakistanis. I think that Musharraf looks like very much an Indian and Mr Advani looks like any Pakistani.

I have always asked that government of India should come out with a white paper on the attack. If they are truthful why don’t they come out with the details. In fact there is a question mark on everything.

KN: Given the atmosphere in India are you hopeful of getting clemency for Afzal?

SAR: I am hopeful. Before our campaign people were not aware of facts. And we told people of India that there has been a miscarriage of Justice and this man has been denied a fair trial. They are convinced. There were a lot of people with us on Oct. 4 in New Delhi supporting us. It is becoming evident that this man has not been given justice and it would be a stigma on Indian democracy if they allow Afzal to be hanged without giving him a fair trial.

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