Saturday, June 22, 2024

17 years of Mecca Masjid Bomb blast: Activists renew call for justice

Commemorating the 17th anniversary of Mecca Masjid bomb blast that killed nine people and injured 58 others, a group of Hyderabad-based activists on Saturday called upon Telangana Chief Minister Revanth Reddy to reopen and conduct a retrial of the case.

The cellphone-triggered pipe bombing inside the mosque took place on May 18, 2007. While the Hussaini Alam police registered two cases, the Central Bureau of Investigation took over after re-registering them. Police initially arrested Muslims for the attack and alleged the role of a Pakistan-based Islamist group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI).

However, evidence pointed to the involvement of Hindutva elements in the blast.

Co-signed by six activists, the letter also reminded that after the blast “the police opened fire on an irate crowd that had gathered in the immediate aftermath, resulting in the deaths of five more individuals”.

“Since that day, justice has eluded both those killed in the blast and those killed by the police,” read the letter.

About a year later, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was constituted. It took over the investigation. A charge sheet was filed naming five people, including Naba Kumar Sarkar, alias Swami Aseemanand. However, after a lengthy trial, the NIA failed to prosecute the accused and in April 2018 the Special NIA Court acquitted all the accused.

The NIA named Aseemanand, a former RSS activist, as the kingpin of the Mecca Masjid blast and accused ten people in the case: Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange and Ramachandra Kalsangra (both former RSS activists who are still absconding), Sunil Joshi (murdered in 2007), Aseemanand, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar (an employee in a private firm), Rajender Chowdhary (a farmer), Tejram Parmar and Amit Chouhan.

NIA chose not to appeal the verdict.

“What is a travesty is that when victims attempted to file an appeal in the Telangana High Court against the acquittal in the Macca Masjid case, the NIA Special Prosecutor objected on grounds of maintainability of the plea. Thus, raising serious questions about the role and commitment of the NIA in handling this case. The Ministry of Home Affairs has not addressed the matter to date, highlighting the shortcomings of the BJP government’s purported zero-tolerance policy in dealing with terrorism,” the letter reads.

Following the blast, the Andhra Pradesh police held more than 200 people, mostly Muslims for interrogation. Several detainees alleged custodial torture. Twenty-one of them were named in a chargesheet. The police named a person called Bilal as the mastermind, who was killed in police firing.

In January 2009, Bilal was acquitted by a local court as the police failed to provide credible evidence against him.

Parallelly, the government of undivided Andhra Pradesh constituted the V Bhaskara Rao Commission in June 2007 to probe the role of the police in the firing of protesters. However, neither the Congress government of undivided Andhra Pradesh nor the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (now the Bharat Rashtra Samithi) that governed Telangana till a few months prior released this report, which is believed to contain damning observations about the police’s conduct.

The letter observed that, by procedure, the government is required to table the report in the State Legislative Assembly, but successive governments have failed to do so. The BRS government denied the copy of the Bhaskar Rao Commission report under the RTI Act as well.

The letter made three demands to the chief minister. It called for a complete reopening of the Mecca Masjid case and a thorough retrial. It also calls for an intervention petition in the High Court against the acquittals.

“The current Congress government demonstrating its commitment to justice by swiftly tabling the unredacted V. Bhaskara Rao Commission report,” it added.

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