Saturday, February 24, 2024

Forced silence thickens the air as PFI leaders complete 500 days in prison

February 4, 2024, marks 500 days in jail for Popular Front of India (PFI) leaders who were arrested by NIA in September 2022.

The arrests were followed by an arbitrary ban on PFI and its associates including Campus Front of India, Rehab India Foundation, All India Imams Council, National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations, National Women’s Front, Junior Front and Empower India Foundation.

The organisations were then declared as “unlawful associations” for a period of five years.

Though the undemocratic clampdown on the organisation was criticised by a bunch of Muslim organisations and human rights groups at the time of the ban, the public sphere now seems devoid of any talk on the unjust incarceration of PFI leaders.

In what NIA had termed as “largest-ever investigation process till date”, around 100 leaders of Popular Front of India including prominent Muslim figures were arrested after both the agency and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in collaboration with the regional police departments, carried out raids at PFI offices and houses of state and local leaders across 11 states.

While ED has frozen dozens of bank accounts linked to the organisation with allegations of money laundering, NIA charged leaders with draconian acts such as UAPA.

The Popular Front of India was accused by the Union government of being involved in terror funding, organising training camps and radicalising persons to join proscribed organisations.

Even after one and a half years, the NIA investigation is trailing around framed stories without producing any proof to substantiate their claims.

At the same time, new additions are relentlessly being made to the chargesheets.

While only a few local leaders were able to achieve bail, the rest of the arrested leaders including aged individuals have spent 500 days in prison, despite not being convicted in any of the cases.

One after the other, as the charges are getting piled up, bail petitions remain pending and hardly achievable.

The latest chargesheet names 19 leaders including 12 National Executive Committee (NEC) members.

Tall Muslim figures including former PFI chief and SDPI’s founder president Erappungal Abubacker, veteran journalist and National Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (NCHRO) general secretary professor P Koya, PFI national chairman OMA Salam, vice chairman E.M Abdul Rahiman, national secretary Nasarudheen Elamaram and Kerala unit president CP Muhammad Basheer were named in the chargesheet.

Anis Ahmed, Afsar Pasha, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Abdul Wahid Sait, A.S. Ismail, Md. Yusuf, Basheer, Shafeer K.P., Jaseer K.P., Shahid Nasir, Waseem Ahmed, Shakif, Farooq Ur Rahman and Yasar Arafat were also named in the chargesheet.

E Abubacker, the founding chairman and one of the chief architects and organisers of the group, was an Arabic language teacher by profession.

He travelled across the country spreading the cause of social justice and has been considered an important figure in Muslim politics.

The 72-year-old Muslim leader, who is fondly called “Abu Sahib” by followers, is currently in Delhi’s Tihar jail.

He suffers from various ailments including a rare form of cancer – gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma – and Parkinson’s disease.

Though he had earlier requested for the provision of house arrest, and an interim bail later, on account of his health condition, the Delhi High Court refused to entertain the veteran leader’s pleas.

After continuous deliberations, he was taken to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi for treatment.

According to his family members, Abubacker’s health condition has deteriorated since the arrest.

E.M Abdurahiman, who served the position of a librarian at Cochin University of Science and Technology (CUSAT), was the vice chairman of PFI when the union government formally banned the organisation.

He was known as a visionary among his peers and colleagues since he provided blueprints for long-term community-development endeavours like PFI’s flagship programme ‘Empower India 2047’.

He had authored multiple works on the backwardness of Muslims and the road ahead towards empowerment.

Professor P Koya, who taught literature at Government Arts College, Kozhikode, is a renowned public intellectual who is known for his active involvement in all major human rights advocacy groups in the country.

Koya provided PFI with a firm ideological framework and worked as an intermediary linking the organisation with other groups working for the upliftment of Dalits, Adivasis and other minorities.

As he completes 500 days inside prison, many of his friends and acquaintances shared his old writings on social media platforms to draw attention towards the sheer injustice being done in the case.

While these senior leaders languish in jails, NIA and state police forces continue hunting PFI workers and associates. Since the ban, several rounds of raids and arrests have taken place in different parts of the country to date.

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