After 20 years of trial, the district court in Surat in Gujarat has acquitted 126 Muslim activists who were arrested in 2001 and jailed for two years under the draconian UAPA charges in the Surat Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) convention case.
While acquitting the accused, the court noted in the judgment that no clause of unlawful activity imposed by the government applies in this case.
Amit Dave, chief judicial magistrate, Surat observed that the prosecution also failed to prove that the alleged unlawful literature was recovered from the spot.
In its order, the court said that the prosecution failed to produce “cogent, reliable and satisfactory” evidence to establish that the accused persons belonged to the SIMI and had gathered to promote the activities of the banned organisation.
The accused persons cannot be held guilty under the UAPA, court added.
Out of all accused, 111 were present at the court. Five of them have already died while many are living painful lives for over two decades since their arrest.
The long trial
In 2001, All-India Minority Educational Board, an NGO works in the education sector had called participants from across India to attend the 8th seminar on the “Constitutional Provisions for Minorities’ Educational Rights.”
The topics of discussion were “The Role of Minority Education in Promotion of National Integration,” “Contribution of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the Educational Field,” and “Social Service and its Education in India.”
The attendees included authors, teachers and scholars, as well as religious leaders and belong to more than 10 states.
The venue was a well-known cinema hall-turned-wedding venue in Surat called Rajshri Hall.
On 27 December 2001, as the seminar attendees prepared to sleep, a group of policemen came in and arrested all. They also seized the event banner, the program schedules and the papers attendees were to present.
Soon after the arrest, an FIR was registered against all the participants of the event. According to the FIR, SIMI ( the organisation had been banned three months prior to the event) had called the meeting and the participants were hatching a conspiracy.
Lawyers representing the Muslim activists said that this educational conference of Surat had no connection at all with SIMI. Most of the people arrested in this connection were aged between 35 and 50 years whereas membership of SIMI is restricted to people only upto 30 years of age after which they are retired.
They were sent to jail in judicial custody and bails were denied. First, five people managed bail in October 2002. 86 people got bail on November 20 that year. Others also got the bail within two years.
The arrestees included country’s prominent Islamic scholars like 65-year old (now 85) Maulana Ataur Rahman Wajdi of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh.