Released on bail last week by a special National Investigation Agency court, former militant Liyaqat Shah will thank his stars for having escaped a much worse fate. With a history of training and residency in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, he perfectly fitted the profile of terror suspects whose lot it has been to languish in jail with little possibility of securing bail and even less of being committed to trial. The Delhi Police picked up Liyaqat from the Nepal border on March 20 and charged him with planning an attack on the Capital ahead of Holi. Fortunately for him, the court rejected the terror conspiracy theory, not just freeing him from the prospect of prolonged captivity but in effect accepting the Jammu and Kashmir police’s explanation that the reformed militant was on his way home under an amnesty scheme offered by the State government. Liyaqat may have been lucky but just how hostile the environment can be for prisoners in general, and those accused of terror in particular, is illustrated by the recent death in police custody of 2007 Uttar Pradesh blast accused Khalid Mujahid.

Khalid’s death is bound to further complicate a case that was already in controversy because of questions surrounding the circumstances of his arrest. Indeed, Khalid’s arrest had been the subject matter of the R.D. Nimesh Commission appointed by the erstwhile Mayawati government in U.P. Unsurprisingly, Khalid’s relatives have filed an FIR implicating senior police officers in his death, and the Akhilesh Yadav government has pitched in, seeking a CBI investigation. The NIA was constituted amidst hopes that it would professionalise terror investigation and prosecution vitiated by the inefficiencies and biases inherent to State police forces. That the new agency is itself under attack today speaks to the extent to which the rot has permeated the system, not to mention the herculean effort that will be required to clean up the mess. The heart-rending case of Pragya Thakur, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast, shows that if terrorism knows no religion, nor does mistreatment of those accused of terrorism. Pragya, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and has since suffered a paralytic stroke, has complained of torture by NIA interrogators. The prosecution and the courts must give serious thought to the remedy she has sought: speedy investigation and trial. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde recently suggested fast-track courts for terror cases. The idea needs quick implementation because to hold men and women captive for years without trial or bail is not just violative of human rights but amounts to judging them guilty without the benefit of due process.

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