Samajwadi Party had, in its election manifesto, promised to release innocent Muslim youth lodged in jail on terror charges; family members of the accused prefer investigation and exoneration.

The Allahabad High Court recently ruled that the Uttar Pradesh government cannot withdraw cases against 19 persons locked up on terror charges, without the permission of the Centre.

The decision was the latest of the many legal embarrassments faced by the Samajwadi Party, which had in its election manifesto promised to release innocent Muslim youth lodged in jail on terror charges.

Contrary to the stand maintained by the State, though, the families of those accused in the terror attacks in Faizabad, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Lucknow and Rampur are strictly against any withdrawal of cases. On several occasions ever since the SP came to power, they have written to the State, including Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, calling for investigation into the cases by an independent central agency like the Central Bureau of Investigation or the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The families of the victims draw their hope from the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, where nine Muslim youth who were arrested were later proven innocent by the NIA.

Shaheen, the brother of Shareef, an accused in the 2008 Rampur CRPF camp attack, says a fair investigation will help them move towards a closure. Shareef is currently lodged in a Bareilly jail.

"Even if my brother is freed like this we will continue to live in fear. A terror attack will take place somewhere in the country and they will arrest him again. We want the truth. If he is guilty, he should be punished. If not, he should be able to live his life normally once and for all,” says Shaheen, a wood cutter in Rampur.

Since Shareef’s arrest, his elder son died and the future of his younger son, aged 9, looks bleak. “We can barely make ends meet. And with my brother in jail I have to feed his family too. Where’s the means for education?” asks Shaheen.

Kin of the accused also back up their demand with the findings of the Nimesh Commission, which terms the arrests of two terror accused, Khalid Mujahid of Jaunpur and Tariq Qasmi of Azamgarh, as “suspicious.” The State, though it has tabled the report in the Cabinet, is yet to implement its findings.

Rajeev Yadav of Rihai Manch, a forum for the release of innocent youth implicated in terror cases, argues that the Nimesh report calls for possible criminal action against the guilty officers so why is the Centre not probing the case when the involvement of State agencies has been established by the report? Moreover, Mr. Yadav says, no accused or their kin have ever demanded the withdrawal of cases as release without being proven innocent would be detrimental to them.

Meanwhile, trials in various terror cases have dragged on at snail’s pace. Anwar Faruki, the brother of another terror accused Kausar, says that in the last six years only 12 witnesses have appeared before the Court. “At this rate, their lives will be wasted. Even if they are proven innocent, it will be too late. Why is the State coming up with this fictitious idea of withdrawing cases? How does it know who is innocent?”

Mr. Faruki, who resides in Kunda, Pratapgarh, says the stigma attached to terror has caused his family much disgrace. “We are looked upon as terrorists. Just recently, my nine-year-old nephew was denied a passport (to travel for the Hajj pilgrimage) after they scrutinized his background. He was called the nephew of a terrorist.”

Civil groups have also regularly flayed the State for following the wrong procedure. Awami Council for Democracy and Peace general secretary and senior advocate Asad Hayat, opines that since the Centre was not involved in the cases — either as complainant, or as witness or in the chargesheet — the State did not require the permission of the Centre before withdrawing cases.

“If it involves the Centre, then why no witnesses have been brought forward by the Centre?” he asks. Citing the 2006 order by the Supreme Court in the T.T Anthony vs Kerala case, Mr. Hayat says that after a State accepts the recommendations of any Commission it was bound to implement them. “In this case, it means calling for an investigation, for a fair trial to proceed.”

Mr. Hayat goes on to criticize the defense for failing to bring up this issue. He, however, says that the stipulation that the Centre should give consent to the State before it could withdraw the cases had only “academic” value in the concerned cases.