Thursday, March 25, 2010

Acquitted, but the hounding continues

Almost three years after terrorists targeted Hyderabad's Mecca Masjid, the wounds of many of the city's Muslims are yet to heal.
In the aftermath of the May 18, 2007 blasts, incidents like the police firing (in which several people lost their lives) and the arrests of several Muslim youth prompted many to ask why Muslims would target a revered mosque.

Dr Ibrahim Ali Junaid, 28, was accused of masterminding the blasts at the Mecca Masjid. After spending two years in prison, he was recently acquitted of all charges. He is back home, trying to re-start his interrupted life.

In an interview with's Vicky Nanjappa, Dr Junaid says even though he had been acquitted, people still view him with suspicion.

What charges were leveled against you?

I was charged under Section 120(b) of the Indian Penal Code for conspiracy. It was alleged that I had planned the blasts with some other people.

It was said that I along with some other youth were sitting at a graveyard in Hyderabad and hatching a conspiracy against the country. It was also said that we had CDs of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Gujarat riots.

How were you picked up by the police? Were the mandatory procedures followed?

No, the procedures were not followed. I was in Delhi attending a seminar and on my return to Hyderabad, I was picked up from the railway station. I was forcibly shoved into a van and kept in custody for five days without anybody's knowledge.

When were you produced in court?

After five days.

Can you share your experience in police custody?

They were brutal towards me. For five days, they subjected me to third degree torture, which was unbearable. They constantly forced me to admit my role in the Mecca Masjid blasts. I did not agree.

Why should I agree when I had not done it in the first place?

Despite this, they went ahead and filed a chargesheet for conspiracy and hatching a plot to carry out terrorist activities in the country.

What do you do today?

I am a doctor by profession. I was practicing at a hospital before my arrest and today -- after my acquittal and subsequent release -- I have resumed practice at the same place.

Is it easy to live in society after the acquittal? Have people accepted your innocence or do they still view you with suspicion?

It is not at all easy. The court has given me the stamp of innocence, but society has not yet done so. People still view me with suspicion.

I am coping up with it and also the questions that I have to answer every day.

I am just staying focused and doing my job. I hope as time goes by, people will accept my innocence and I can live like a normal citizen.

If the police have made such a mess out of your life, why are you sparing them?

I am not. Why should the police get away after fixing me for no fault of mine?

I have slapped a case for compensation against them. The case is going on and I am hopeful that I will be able to get some relief.

Do the police still trouble you?

Sometimes I think I have to live with this for the rest of my life. It is hard, but what do I do?

Every time there is some case of terrorism, they keep a watch on me and sometimes send people to talk to me.

I am being monitored 24 hours and this is not a good feeling. They asked me to sign a bond and visit the police station once a week.

I am scared I may lose my job since they have landed up there too to question me. I have approached the state human rights commission against this.

Will arrests like yours provoke other youth from your community to take up jihad?

I would not say that. They are angry for sure, but they will not take an extreme step for sure.

Such fake cases do anger the community, but we will fight it out legally.

Why were you targeted in this case?

As I said earlier, I have no clue. I was in my final year of studies.

The day the blasts occurred, I had gone there to offer prayers; the mosque is opposite my college. That is the extent to which I know.

After that I went to Delhi and was picked up on my return to Hyderabad.

Was there any other motive for your arrest?

I really do not know. I was part of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee and had protested the fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Sheikh. I was never part of SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India).

During my days in custody, the police repeatedly kept asking me, 'Will you protest the encounter?' apart from asking me to admit my role in the Mecca Masjid blasts.

What message do you have for youth who face a situation like yours?

Just fight legally. I would like to appeal to the police to stop illegal detentions and harassment.

I hope the police makes arrests when they have concrete evidence and not lose sight of justice.

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