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
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.