Afzal Guru: India’s Lamb to the Slaughter

March 5, 2013 8:47 pm

On the 8th of February 2013, at 8am in the gallows of Tihar Jail, Mohammad Afzal Guru was executed for his alleged involvement in the December 13th 2001 attacks on India’s Parliament. His execution has been described as a form of retributive justice in India’s political and academic circles, however the glaring failures to provide Afzal Guru with a fair trial and a sentence handed out on the basis of a haphazard investigation and weak evidence leads one to ponder – was Guru’s execution a gross miscarriage of justice?

Afzal Guru was a medical student in Kashmir. In 1989 he decided to cross over to Pakistan to receive training from militant outfit, JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir liberation Front). However having become disillusioned with the organisation, he surrendered to India’s border forces before completing his training. He went on to complete his studies in Delhi University and ended up working with a pharmaceutical firm.

His name was later to be embroiled with the parliament attacks on December 13th 2001, in which a group of five gunmen, alleged to be a part of militant organisations – Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed – stormed the parliament gates and killed eight security personnel and a gardener before being gunned down by police.

Within 48 hours of the attack, Afzal Guru was arrested alongside university lecturer, Sayeed Abdul Rahman Geelani, his cousin, Shaukat Guru and Shaukat’s wife Afzan Guru for alleged involvement in the conspiracy of the attacks. The police described the arrests as “case cracked”. The charges were filed in a special fast-track court for cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2002.

In December 2002, Afzal Guru, Geelani and Shaukat were sentenced to death with Afzan Guru being sentenced to five years of “rigorous imprisonment”. On appeal to the High court, both Geelani – the alleged “Mastermind” of the attacks – and Afzan were acquitted, however the death sentences of Afzan and Shaukat were upheld. In a supreme court judgement in 2005, Shaukat’s punishment was reduced to ten years of ‘rigorous’ imprisonment, only to be released nine months before his sentence ended, while Afzal was given three life sentences and a double death Penalty.  In 2006 Delhi court ordered Guru to be hanged – the order now duly fulfilled.

But how did India’s special cell (anti-terrorist department) reach Afzal in the first place?

The police claim that it was Geelani’s arrests that lead them to Afzal, but according to court records the order to arrest Afzal was sent out before the arrest of Geelani. This was declared as a “material contradiction” in court and the issue was then left untouched. Another glaring error that seemed to go forgotten was the fact that despite Afzal and Shaukat Guru being arrested in Srinagar, the arrest memos were signed by Geelani’s younger brother Bismillah, who happened to be detained in Delhi at the time. The seizure memos on the other hand were signed in Srinagar, which is a complete paradox. The error was noted and the police only got a slap on the wrist.

Geelani and Afzan Guru’s arrest remains a mystery. The two – according to evidence – played absolutely no part in the conspiracy; hence why they were acquitted.

What is more perplexing was the fact Geelani was initially sentenced to death on the basis of being the ‘lynchpin’ of the attacks but was eventually acquitted upon lack of evidence. If there was no evidence then one is left to beg the question – why was he convicted let alone handed a death sentence in the first place?

A week after the arrests of all four alleged co-conspirators, Afzal Guru made a confessional statement in police custody in which he openly incriminated himself. The recording was handed over to media networks who then proceeded to televise the confession in front of the masses.

Afzal Guru later disowned the confession and the supreme court deemed it as inadmissible evidence. Under the Indian Penal code, confessional statements in police custody are not accepted as legal evidence in a criminal trial.

“The special cell had violated even the tenuous safeguards provided under POTA” stated India’s supreme court.

In Guru’s confessional statement he admitted to being a facilitator of the attack. He claimed to have contact with a man named Tariq who was a co-ordinator working on the behest of Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Chief commander, Shah Nawaz Khan, who operates with the pseudonym Gazi Baba. Gazi Baba via Tariq had sent five of his men to carry out the parliament attacks and Guru was asked to accommodate them and provide them with necessary equipment. In the recording, Guru names the five men as Raja, Rana, Haider, Hamza and finally the chief of the group, Mohammed.

Although Afzal disowned the confession, he did not deny that he brought Mohammed to Delhi, but stated that he was forced to do so by Jammu and Kashmir’s STF (Special Task forces) after having been detained and tortured by them.

In documents submitted to the court, Guru states that prior to the attack he was detained in Jammu and Kashmir STF camps in Kashmir where he was subsequently tortured. The methods of torture included electrodes attached to his genitals and chillies and petrol were poured into his Anus. In the document is also the name of Deputy Superintendent Devinder Singh, who has admitted on record to having been the man who had tortured Guru.

“I did interrogate and torture him [Afzal] at my camp for several days. And we never recorded his arrest in the books anywhere. His description of torture at my camp is true. That was the procedure those days and we did pour petrol in his ass and gave him electric shocks. But I could not break him. He did not reveal anything to me despite our hardest possible interrogation…he looked like a ‘bhondu’ [fool] those days, what you call a ‘chootya’ [idiot] type. And I had a reputation for torture, interrogation and breaking suspects. If anybody came out of my interrogation clean, nobody would ever touch him again. He would be considered clean for good by the whole department” stated Devinder Sharma in the recording.

The superintendent had also told Afzal that they needed him to do a “small job” in Delhi.

Further to these documents Afzal claimed that he had met Tariq and Mohammed in the STF camps, where Tariq – who had claimed to be working with STF – demanded that Afzal accompany Mohammed to Delhi and was threatened with severe consequences if he failed to comply. After having accompanied Mohammed to Delhi he made his way back to Srinagar where he was subsequently arrested two days after the parliament attacks.

None of these documents and statements were openly challenged in court. However Superintendent Singh’s confession to torturing Afzal is proof of the fact that they had contact with him. Which brings up another question, how does a man who has been under surveillance by Kashmir’s STF so easily conspire in an operation to lay siege on the Indian parliament? Why would Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed entrust a militant operation of this scale on a man who is well known by Kashmir’s police?  Another important question was that ‘Tariq’ was also on the police charge sheet when Afzal was arrested. Who was Tariq and why has he not been arrested?

Furthermore Afzal’s conviction has been justified on the basis that he was able to identify the bodies of the five gunmen. However Afzal’s later statement contradicts this view point in which he states that he did not identify them, but in fact he was given the names of the gunmen and forced to identify them.

It is still not clear who the gunmen exactly are, one was identified by police commissioner SM Shangari as Mohammed Yasin Fateh, Mohammed of Lashkar-e-Taiba who – as he claimed – was arrested in November 2000 and handed over to Jammu and Kashmir police. He was meant to be in custody at the time of the attacks. But if Shangari rightly identified him then why was he walking around freely in the first place?

Two further incriminating pieces of evidence included a laptop and a sim card which were seized upon arrest but not sealed as is required under law.  The laptop appeared to show fake ministry and identity passes and a ZEE TV video clip of the parliament. So according to the police, Afzal had deleted all but the most incriminating evidence. As for the sim card a police witness went on to claim that he sold the crucial sim card-  that connected all the accused – on 4th December 2001 when the sim was actually activated a month earlier.

There is a growing list of contradictions within the investigation that was carried out and the faults were laid out in front of the trial court, High court and the Supreme Court, yet not one officer in the investigation was reprimanded.

“The courts did not pass any strictures against the officers for their shoddy and illegal investigations,” says Nandita Haksar, Geelani’s lawyer

Recently the Indian Government and media outlets have been attempting to extract his guilt from a letter – allegedly written by Afzal – that was published on Kashmir’s Urdu weekly, Qaumi Waqari, after his execution. Afzal sent the letter to the editor in 2008, in which he states that “the terror strike is no cause for shame, just as army troops who violate human rights in Kashmir are not apologetic for their action.” Despite appearing to condone the attacks never once in the letter does he admit to being involved in any shape or form.

Afzal guru also failed to receive a fair trial. He was designated a court-appointed lawyer, Neeraj Bansal,  but the lawyer never once visited Afzal in jail, nor did he cross-examine prosecution witnesses and neither did he summon any witnesses for Guru’s Defence.  Afzal had raised this matter in court but his complaint fell on deaf ears. He had to wait for four years to get a lawyer of his choice. This time he had to pay from his own pockets.

“Quite frankly in my opinion and on the basis of the records this man did not get a fair trial” stated Afzal’s lawyer, Sushil Kumar in an interview with Newsxlive.

 

In 2002 the trial court sentenced Afzal Guru to death, and in 2005 his death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. When upholding the sentence the Supreme Court admitted that the evidence against Afzal was purely circumstantial and there was no evidence of Afzal being associated with any Militant group or organisations. However he was still given the death sentence on the basis that “the incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender.”

The above statement is a sad indictment of India’s rule of law where an elite few can craft their own idea of what India’s collective conscience is and pass judgement on how it can be soothed.

In this case his guilt was not proved beyond reasonable doubt, but it seems that to satisfy the nation’s “collective conscience” Afzal may have possibly been made a scapegoat. The precedent that the entire trial sets is that the principle “Innocent until proven guilty” is an impractical idea in a situation where a nation lusts for somebody’s blood as retribution for a heinous crime; therefore a need for an accurate and thorough investigation as well as a fair trial is totally redundant.

India’s collective conscience may be satisfied now that Afzal is dead, but how do we satisfy the conscience of Afzal’s wife, Tabassum, and his young Son, Ghalib, who were’nt even notified of his execution date until two days after the deed was done? And how do we satisfy the

conscience of Ghalib who has now lost his father in what seems to be one of the greatest of travesties of Justice- one that was carried out in broad daylight?

Most importantly what does this mean for Kashmir, that heavenly region of immense suffering have quite possibly lost another son on top of the the hundreds of thousands of men who have been killed quietly or either perished in India’s torture camps – camps that even puts Abu Ghraib in its shadows. For the last two years Kashmir has been through its most peaceful period since the first insurgency in 1989. But now as a result of Afzal’s hanging, curfews have been reinstated and everything from internet to grocery stores were shut down. As demonstrations to protest Guru’s hanging began, that all-too familiar smell of tear gas and that paralysing sound of gunfire returned for a brief period and took the lives of two more innocent Kashmiri boys and left one fighting for his life.

I suppose this minor detail is insignificant to the vast majority in India but the truth is that the backdrop to the 13th December attacks starts in Kashmir.  A place where suffering has been passed on from generation to generation and their culprits are the same ones who have abused all institutions of democracy in order to get the noose tied around Afzal’s neck.

I hope with Afzal’s hanging, the nation’s conscience is fully satisfied. There is nothing more sinister than a cup of blood that is only half full.

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