The Maharashtra ATS persists with the prosecution of 13 innocent Muslims by keeping the evidence of their innocence from the court. Ashish Khetan exposes a sinister conspiracy of the men in uniform.Additional reporting by Thufail PT
Not one but two acts of terror visited us on July 11th 2006. The first was inflicted by those who planted seven deadly bombs on suburban trains in Mumbai, snuffing out 188 innocent lives. The second, invisible but equally insidious, was unleashed in its aftermath. It was those sworn to uphold the rule of law, to be fair and just who launched a systematic programme of Muslim persecution.In the name of combating terror, the Mumbai police and its specialized anti-terror squad (the ATS), tortured, humiliated and stripped at least twenty innocent Muslims of all their basic human rights. Their right to live with dignity, their right to be a Muslim, their right to earn an honest living—was mercilessly taken away in one fell swoop.
Waterboarding, administration of chemicals through veins and anus, giving electric shock to their private parts, sleep deprivation, threat of raping family members were among some of the techniques of coercion that were applied to extract false confessions.
In the course of its investigations Gulail is putting out internal documents running into hundreds of pages that exposes how the anti-terror agencies deliberately misled the Indian Courts, how material facts are being concealed from both the public and the judiciary and how different versions of the same terror plot are touted before different courts. Our expose establishes how the Maharashtra ATS selectively picked and chose from the revelations made in a subsequent terror investigation. This was done to retrospectively validate the bogus 7/11 train blasts investigation. These documents reveal how one version of a terror conspiracy was circulated for the internal consumption of the agencies and another for the judiciary.
This investigation by Gulail exposes the false implication of innocent and disempowered Muslims in crimes they never committed. It lays bare the sinister and elaborate conspiracy of the Maharashtra ATS of manufacturing bogus evidence, planting explosives in the houses of innocent accused and dressing up stoolpigeons as eyewitnesses.
It shows that the Maharashtra ATS’s investigation was guided by a deep rooted and extreme prejudice against the Muslims. Anyone with a past association with the student organization¬¬¬¬– Students Islamic Movement of India was automatically deemed a terror suspect. The act of publishing Islamic books was equated with sedition. To be a devout Muslim was seen as a sure sign of extremism. Gulail’sexpose shows that the ATS instead of carrying out a methodical, in-depth or scientific investigation opted for the easiest route. They went after the usual suspects. Anyone with a past, formal or informal, association with SIMI was hauled up to the police station and tortured. And as days went by without any leads or break-through and public pressure to show results grew, the ATS implicated a set of former SIMI members who had been kept in illegal detention since the blasts. This story lays bare the absolute farcical method of ATS investigation and utter contempt for the due process of law.
More significantly, Gulail puts the spotlight on a deep crisis brewing in our democracy. It is a crisis of a loss of faith in the ideals of justice and perhaps the very idea of a secular India. Every act of police brutality and false implication not just strikes at the rule of law. It also erodes the faith of our minorities in the capacity of this nation to dispense equal justice and to live by the promise made by our founding fathers. This story exposes the deep rot that has set in in our system, one that first condones and then resolutely fails to take any kind of corrective action.
For the last seven years thirteen innocent Muslims are facing a farcical trial in the Mumbai train bombings. A good portion of their life has been spent behind the bars, their families have been forced to live a life of deprivation and hardships and their future and the future of their children has been cast with a permanent shadow.
Gulail is putting out in the public domain the testimonies of unspeakable torture and humiliation of members of the minority community at the hands of the ATS. These Muslims were tortured to extract false confessions of their involvement in the train blast case. Under the draconian law of MCOCA, confessions made before the police are admissible in court. As soon as these accused were sent to judicial custody, they all retracted their confessions, exposing the coercive tactics of the ATS.
All this material amounts to compelling evidence of the deliberate faking of evidence as well as the most inhuman torture of innocent Muslims in police custody to pervert the course of justice. We hope that these revelations would shock the conscience of those occupying the highest echelons in the judiciary and the government.
In keeping with its promise of fighting against injustice and inequities not only in the public space but also in the courts, Gulail has filed a letter petition in the Bombay High Court and before statutory bodies like the National Human Rights Commission and the National Minorities Commission.
The Usual Suspects The July 2006 train blasts were the biggest terror strikes in India after the 1993 Bombay blasts. Seven synchronized bombs claimed around 190 lives—an indication of an extremely sophisticated and elaborate conspiracy. So how did the Mumbai police go about the investigation? Did they turn to sophisticated investigative techniques. No, what they did do was haul up the usual suspects, that is, the ex-members or sympathizers of the SIMI to the police station and began interrogating them. These were the same people whom the police had been surveilling for the last 5 years since the ban on the SIMI. They became a familiar sight, hauled into the police station every time there was a bomb explosion in the city. In other words a lazy and malicious police machinery presumed those constantly under their radar to be suspects.Eventually 13 innocent Muslims were oimplicated in the blasts case on the basis of confessions made before police officers.
Take the case of 30-year old (age at the time of his arrest) Abdul Wahid Sheikh who was a teacher at Anjuman Islam AbdusSattarSaheb High School, MaulanaShaukat Ali Road, Mumbai. In 2001 when the SIMI was banned, the Mumbai police had registered a case against Wahid and dozens of other Muslim youth from Mumbai for being members of the banned organization. Since 2001 the Mumbai police had been following the policy of hauling SIMI members to the police station every time there was a bomb explosion in the city. Since 2001 like other alleged SIMI members Wahid was permanently on the police radar. He was interrogated on multiple occasions after a series of blasts at Ghatkopar, Mulund and Vile Parle in 2002-2003 and the Gateway of India Blasts, 2003. Similarly, after the 7/11 blasts Wahid was detained at the ATS police stations. The ATS finally arrested him under the claim that he had been absconding since the train blasts. During the trial evidence has now emerged of police station diary entries showing his presence on multiple occasions at different police stations after the train blasts.
Similarly,Dr Tanveer Ansari, a BUMS doctor was working as a specialist in emergency procedures at Fauzia Nursing Home in Nagpada, Mumbai. In 2001, Tanveer had participated in the medical relief work carried out by the SIMI in Bhuj in the aftermath of the 2001 earthquake. In 2001, when the SIMI was banned, Tanveer was also arrested, accused of being a member of the SIMI. Like other associates of the SIMI, Tanveer too became a usual suspect, questioned multiple times in the aftermath of the bomb explosions. Post 7/11, after some rounds of questioning, Tanveer was illegally detained and finally arrested. The story of the other eleven accused is more or less similar, except that some of them had absolutely no linkage with the SIMI. Still they were implicated since the ATS needed an array of characters for the fanciful story they had scripted. The Call Data Records of the cell phones owned by these men have now revealed that they were not even present at the blast site.
Torture and Coercion Out of the nine 7/11 accused who were interviewed by Gulail, eight gave a detailed description of the unspeakable torture they were subjected to in police custody (all 13 accused have been behind bars for the past seven years, these interviews were obtained by Gulail with great difficulty in court corridors. Gulail couldn’t speak with the ninth accused MuzammilShaikh in detail as the police escort stopped us from interacting with him). 1 Kala Chowki branch of the ATS was the designated torture chamber. Besides inspectors and constables, senior IPS officers like AN Roy, Naval Bajaj and Jaijeet Singh also participated in torturing these men.
Waterboarding. The extremely barbaric technique of torture used by the CIA on Guantanamo Bay detainees was used by the ATS on these 13 innocent Muslims. The accused used to be tied to a handcart with their feet up. Their faces were then covered with a piece of cloth and water was poured onto their faces so that they felt like they were drowning.
Narco-analysis in police custody Many of these men while they were in police custody were also administered chemicals through their veins that was meant to make them unconscious and was supposedly meant to extract information. These narco-analysis tests were carried out in police custody without any medical supervision or court permission. These illegal narco tests were done in addition to the narco-analysis that was done on many of these men with court permission at the FSL, Bangalore facility.
Some of the other techniques of torture that were used:
180 degree stretching of legs
Electric shock to private parts
Beating with shoes and belts
Chinese water torture: Victims head was fixed to a spot
Manufacturing bogus Evidence
The evidence lead in the charge-sheet was of three kinds:-11 MCOCA confessions made to police officers; recoveries of explosives and detonators from some of the accused and so-called public witnesses (well known stool pigeons or those under the thumb of the police) who claimed the unlikely feat of recognising the faces of some of the accused while getting in and out from the local train though they were strangers to them. However, against most of the accused, the case is based on confessions and recoveries.
Gulail’s investigation reveals the circumstances under which these accused were compelled to sign onto pre-drafted confessions. Some accused agreed to sign under extreme physical pain. But there were some who refused to give in. These men were then told that their wives, sisters and mothers would be raped in front of their eyes and their brothers and father would also be implicated. Faisal Shaikh’s 70-year old father was made to march naked in front of his son. The ATS finally got what they wanted. These men too gave in. The ATS extracted 11 confessions on the strength of which they filed the chargesheet in the first week of December 2006. Since then all 13 men have been in jail.
The crackdown on the ‘Indian Mujahideen’ and arrest of Sadiq Sheikh.
In August and September 2008, there were serial blasts in Delhi, Ahmedabad and Surat. Following some leads in these blasts, the Mumbai Crime Branch arrested one Sadiq Sheikh along with 20 other accused from Mumbai and other parts of Maharashtra.
Subsequent to the arrests, the Mumbai Crime Branch claimed to have recorded confessions of more than 10-12 persons including SadiqShaikh, as this was also a MCOCA investigation. This was a crucial juncture in the terror investigations in India. In a span of a little over one year between August 2007 and September 2008, there were terror bombings in Bangalore (seven serial blasts of July 2008), Hyderabad (Lumbini Park and GokulChaat Blasts of August 2007), UP (triple blasts at Court premises in Lucknow, Varanasi and Faizabad, November 2007), Jaipur (serial blasts of May 2008), Ahmedabad (21 serial blasts in July 2008) and Surat (aborted attempt as eighteen bombs malfunctioned) and Delhi (five synchronized bomb blasts in market places of Delhi in September 2008). The series of bombings across India hinted at a single, integral terror conspiracy and brought several investigating agencies of different states together and consequent pooling of information.
Evidence emerges that 7/11 was not done by the 13 men originally arrested
Thus, the confessions of Sadiq Sheikh and others as recorded by the Mumbai Crime Branch, are significant, because they clearly point to the fact that even the July Mumbai local train bombings of 2006 were done by this set of people newly arrested and without any reference or link to those prosecuted by the ATS from 2006 onwards!
In other words the set of men arrested following the 2007 and 2008 set of bombings across the country were interrogated by Ahmedabad, Delhi, UP, Karnataka and other police teams and were subsequently made common accused in all these 2007-2008 blasts. Sadiq Sheikh and his alleged ‘Indian Mujahideen’ accomplices were interrogated by different police agencies on different dates. Each agency prepared detailed Interrogation Reports (IRs). Common to all is the view or conclusion that it is this set of men that were behind even the July 2006 Mumbai local train bombings.
Gulail obtains internal documents of over half a dozen agencies that show the 13 train blast accused are innocent.
Our sources in the Mumbai police and state police agencies of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka who were involved in investigating ‘Indian Mujahideen’ and its alleged involvement in the 2007 and 2008 blasts provided us the Interrogation Reports of Sadiq Sheikh and others prepared by each of these agencies (All these interrogation reports are uploaded on the website). These Interrogation Reports show the dates on which they were prepared and the computers on which they were prepared.
All these Interrogation Reports (IRs) based on ‘confessions’ record a massive and integral conspiracy. These IRs contain a meticulously detailed description of more than eight terror strikes that Sadiq Sheikh and his accomplices had plotted and executed since 2003:These are 1. DashashwamedhGhat, Varanasi, 2004 (the bomb packed in a container had failed to explode. The local police dismissed it as an accident. But Sadiq told the police that it was actually a terror plot) 2. Shramjeevi Express Blast,Jaunpur, UP, 2005 3. Diwali Blasts, Delhi, 2005 4. Varanasi Blasts, 2006 5. Mumbai Train Blasts, 2006 6. Hyderabad Twin Blasts (Gokul Chat and Lumbini Park), 2007 7. Ahmedabad Serial Blasts and the failed Surat Blasts.
Agencies accept Sadiq’s revelations in cases that were yet to be solved
The agencies have themselves claimed (both in court and in public) that Sadiq’s interrogation led to the arrest of over 70 terror suspects by UP ATS, Hyderabad CIC, Ahmedabad Crime Branch, Rajasthan ATS and Delhi Special Cell.
The content of these reports, and ‘confessions’ etc is part of the charge-sheetSadiq and his accomplices in the alleged oufitnamed Indian Mujahideen were charge-sheeted in all those blast cases in which the investigation was still not completed. Hyderabad Blasts (Gokul Chat and Lumbini Park) of 2007, Ahmedabad and Surat (aborted) Blasts of 2008, Delhi Blasts of 2008 were some of the cases in which the alleged Indian Mujahideen members including SadiqShaikh were charge-sheeted. At the same time all of them were equally aware that an entirely different set of persons had been put on trial for the same by the Maharashtra ATS.
But those parts of Sadiq’s revelations that go contrary to previous investigations are brushed under the carpet.
Now either Sadiq and his accomplices were responsible for 7/11 bombings or those 13 men who were originally arrested. But the agencies accepted and further corroborated only those of Sadiq’s revelations that related to the investigations in which the accused had still not been identified and arrested by the respective agencies. But revelations pertaining to blasts like 7/11 that went contrary to the police theory were conveniently ignored.
Can in a country governed by rule of law this policy of pick and choose followed by the agencies in the offences punishable with death penalty be condoned?
Thus at least after 2008 September, all the said agencies including ATS Maharashtra were privy to the nature of evidence and revelations pertaining to the July 11, 2006 train bombings and they relied heavily on these revelations in the investigations pertaining to the 2007-2008 bombings. But those revelations that related to the 7/11 Mumbai train blasts were conveniently brushed under the carpet.
The lack of bonafides is evident from the fact that no attempt was made to arrive at the truth or exonerate one set of obviously innocent persons.
But none of these agencies placed the entire relevant material before the MCOCA court trying an entirely unconnected set of 13 men for this very act. Why?
Our intent is not to pass a verdict of guilt against certain accused. But it is only to highlight the blatant discrepancies and contradictions in terror investigations. Evidence that suits a police case is considered credible and evidence that debunks bogus investigations is hidden both from the courts and public view.