SC acquits Akshardham terror strike convicts, slams Gujarat Police probe
Mohammad Saleem, 45, has spent the last 11 years of his life being labelled a 'terrorist' by some officials of the Gujarat police, who allegedly falsely accused him of being involved in the 2002 Akshardham terror attack case. On May 16 this year, the Supreme Court acquitted all the six accused in the case - three of them had earlier been sentenced to death -- and slammed the Gujarat police for its shoddy investigation.
Saleem, a tailor, had just returned from Saudi Arabia in August 2003, when sleuths from the Ahmedabad Crime Branch picked him up, alleging he had furnished 'fake' details in his passport application. He was then allegedly asked to choose which terror case he would be implicated in. "I was told to choose between Godhra (train burning case), Haren Pandya (murder) case or the Akshardham case. I pleaded to them that I had been out of India for 13 years, why should I own up to something that I was not involved in.'' he recounted.
In 2006, a POTA court sentenced Saleem to life imprisonment. Three other accused -- Mufti Abdul Qayuum, Adam Ajmeri and Chand Khan -- were awarded the death sentence. The other two accused, Abdul Miyan Qadri and Atlaf Hussain, were awarded a ten-year jail term amd five-year jail term respectively
While his mother fell ill right after his arrest, his 15-year-old son had to drop out from the English medium school he was studying in and join a municipal school. "My children got punished for no fault of theirs,'' rues Saleem. Saleem's brother Irfan was on the verge of completing his graduation. With the family's only breadwinner behind bars, he was forced to give up his studies and drive an auto-rickshaw to earn a living. "I have spent most of my life in courtrooms, police stations and jail,'' lamented Irfan.
The lawyers of the acquitted men are now contemplating moving court against the policemen involved in the case, including D G Vanzara, the then chief of the Crime Branch. Vanzara has been behind bars for over seven years for his alleged involvement in a spate of encounter killings. But all Saleem and his family members want today is to get their lives -- derailed after fighting false charges and injustice for years -- back on track.
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