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HRW in Gujarat to investigate Sabarmati Jail beatings

Thursday, June 25, 2009 02:28:24 PM, Agencies


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Ahmedabad: A team of two researchers from Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non- governmental organization to protect the human rights of the citizens all over the world, is currently on an assignment in Gujarat.


It was the revelations by HRW about the inhuman torture of the inmates in Guantanamo prison became the ground for closure of the infamous cell and release of the prisoners.


In the last one week since they have landed in Gujarat, infamous for its statewide anti-Muslim carnage in 2002 in alleged collusion with the state machinery, the two researchers have been able to meet several rights activists, police and government officials, lawyers defending civil rights and families of the accused facing trial for their alleged involvement in July 26, 2008, serial bomb blasts that left 56 people dead in Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of this Western Indian state.


According to rights activists and lawyers, who interacted with the two researchers, say that HRW representatives are mainly focusing on the misuse of administrative powers and legal provisions on the pretext of fighting terror.


Those who interacted with the researchers-Letta Taylor and Meenakshi Ganguly-say that they were very critical of violation of human rights of citizens on the pretext of fighting terror. The researchers said that their organization had exposed the human rights violations by the official machinery in several parts of the globe and successfully brought international pressure on the respective governments to end rights violations.


In their interactions, advocate Hashim Qureshi and other advocates told the group about the misuse of administrative and legal provisions, particularly with regard to filing 19 different cases against the accused in July 26 serial bomb blasts aimed at prolonging their police remand for about six months. According to them, all the blast incidents should have been covered in a single FIR.


Other advocates including I M Munshi and Khalid Sheikh also briefed the researchers about the human rights violation of the accused in police as well as judicial custody. They also submitted the team several documents pertaining to rights violations including a court report on the injuries suffered by the inmates when they were assaulted by prison and police personnel in Sabarmati jail in the last week of March.


Though more than a year has passed since the blast took place and chargesheets were filed, the advocates informed the team that trial had yet not begun in the blast case reflecting on the slow judicial process, resulting into harassment of the accused.

Stating that if the police could infringe on the human rights of the people under ordinary provisions of Indian Penal Code, the advocates told HRW team that the draconian provisions of the of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2008, passed by the UPA government could give immense leverage to the police to further harass any one they suspect to be an accused in an act of terror. The advocates said that as far as human rights were concerned, UAPA was the worst legislation anywhere in the world, passed by the Indian federal government after Mumbai terror attack in November 2008.


The researchers are also probing why only the accused involved in July 26 serial blasts were singled out and brutally tortured by prison staff and cops while other Muslim prisoners, including POTA accused from Godhra as also Ahmedabad, were not even touched. In fact, all other Muslim prisoners were allegedly separated before blast accused were assaulted.


The researchers were officially told that the accused had dealt with severely because they resorted to hunger strike, which amounts to mutiny under the archaic Bombay Prison Manual prepared by the Britishers to suppress freedom fighters, the family members of the accused informed that the prison officials were hostile to them particularly because they were more strict in adherence of religious tenets like praying regularly five times a day and propagating Islam among the non-Muslim prisoners.


According to family members of the accused, as many as 10 Hindu prisoners have so far embraced Islam.


The researchers also visited families of the accused in Vadodara. Raees Agarbattiwala, brother of accused Usman Agarbattiwala, told them that while the four accused were picked up on August 8, they were officially shown arrested on August 14 only. According to Raees, they were kept under illegal detention for six days.


Hameeda Bano, mother Imran Sheikh, another blast accused, alleged that her son was tortured by the police during interrogation and then brutally beaten up in Sabarmati jail.

Imran’s father Ibrahim suffering from cardiac problem, passed away a week ago, with the jail authorities not allowing Imran to attend the burial of his father.


Well-known human rights activist Yusuf Sheikh based at Vadodara told the researchers about the mental torture he was subjected to by the police and intelligence agencies after July 26 blasts.


During her interactions, Sumaiya, wife of blast accused Ashok alias Umar, narrated how her husband was allegedly forced by the sleuths to reconvert and booked in the blast case after he refused to surrender to their wishes. Sumaiya is also a neo-convert.


Qutbuddin Sheikh, father of accused Zahid Sheikh, told HRW representatives that he had no money to arrange for the legal assistance for his son.


Ganguly and Taylor are expected to visit other places including Delhi, UP, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and other state to prepare their report on India. (Siasat)





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