Eleven years ago to the day on Tuesday, Sulaiman Bhai Ajmeri’s wife pleaded with the Gujarat Police that her husband was an innocent mechanic and not a terrorist involved in the attack on the Akshardham Temple in Gujarat.
Each time during the 11 years Mr. Sulaiman remembered his wife’s desperate attempts to prove his innocence, he broke down. But on Tuesday, he looked calm and composed after the Supreme Court ordered that all the six convicted by the lower court, including Sulaiman, be freed.
Two fidayeens sprayed bullets from their Ak-56 rifles and used hand grenades to kill 33 persons and injured another 86 before at Akshardham Temple before being killed by NSG commandos on September 25, 2002. The six members of minority community were charge-sheeted. A trial court had awarded death sentence to three of them, life imprisonment to two and 10-year imprisonment to remaining man.
While acquitting the accused, the Apex Court pulled up the Gujarat Police for framing “innocent” people in the case and accused the then Gujarat Home Minister of non-application of mind” in granting sanction to prosecute the six under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
Mr. Sulaiman got the news of his acquittal on the day the Modi wave was sweeping the country.
“My family was ostracized by society. Only a few gathered the courage to support me for they knew the real Sulaiman — a poor mechanic who worked with his father to make ends meet,” he said on Tuesday, during an interaction with the media here while describing about his ordeal as a “dreaded terrorist”.
Sulaiman said the only hope for “terrorists” like him and his five co-accused was the judiciary, while explaining how the Apex court ordered that the Gujarat police had failed to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt and their confessional statements were invalid to prove their involvement in the terror strike.
Mufti Abdul Qayum, whose death sentence by the trial court in Gujarat was quashed by the Apex court last week, recounted how he was forced to sign the confessional statement prepared by the police under coercion.“Torture and coercion”
“The police tortured and forced me to write the letters. They claimed the letters were found from the pockets of the fidayeen killed during the attack. But the Supreme Court noticed that the letters were clean, not torn, or soiled/stained with blood or soil — which was highly unnatural and improbable as the terrorists’ bodies were covered with blood and mud, and their clothes had multiple tears and holes due to the bullets,” Mr. Qayyum recounted.
Mr. Qayyum and the others of what they call “victims of State terror” will move to the Supreme Court for compensation for the precious 11 years of their lives that were “wasted in most inhumane manner”.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind president Mulana Syed Arshad Madani, the organisation that helped the six of them, told The Hindu : “The media play a negative role by dubbing arrests of the Muslims as big breakthroughs in terror cases. And when acquittal happens, no one covers it. No one is bothered that they have been acquitted after 11 years.”