Civil rights groups here on Monday raised the wrongful confinement of Lucknow resident Shahbaz Ahmad, who after spending over 12 years in jail, was acquitted in eight cases related to the Jaipur bomb blasts of 2008, but was re-arrested in a ninth case in the same matter. The Rajasthan High Court released Mr. Ahmad on bail last week.
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) has demanded payment of ₹1 crore as compensation to Mr. Ahmad, 48, for the loss of 12 years of his life and strict action against the police officers who had falsely implicated him in a “concocted case”. The PUCL said Mr. Ahmad and his family members had undergone an ordeal with the terrorism charges slapped on him.
“Snatching 12 years of personal liberty from an innocent man is a heinous crime. These years cannot be returned to Mr. Ahmad, but those who conspired to implicate him in the blasts cases should get punishment under the criminal law and should be made to face disciplinary action,” PUCL-Rajasthan president Kavita Srivastava said here.
The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Rajasthan police re-arrested Mr. Ahmad in December 2019 shortly after he was acquitted by a special court in the 2008 serial blasts cases. The arrest was made in connection with a bomb strapped to a bicycle parked in a market, which was defused by the police personnel before it could explode on May 13, 2008.
Eight other ammonium nitrate-based bombs, packed with metal splinters, went off at different locations within a 2-km radius in the densely populated Walled City here, killing 71 persons and leaving about 200 injured.
The trial in eight cases registered by the police resulted in the conviction of four persons from Uttar Pradesh, but the case pertaining to the unexploded bomb was not tried with the rest of the blast matters. The four convicted persons were awarded the death penalty, while Mr. Ahmad was acquitted.
Mr. Ahmad, a resident of Lucknow who was the first one to be arrested three months after the blasts, was charged with sending an e-mail which claimed responsibility for the blasts on behalf of the Indian Mujahideen, but the court did not find evidence beyond doubt to connect him with the crime.
The ATS had claimed to have cracked the blasts case after arresting Mr. Ahmad from his computer and career consultancy centre in Aminabad locality of Lucknow. He was referred to as the mastermind of the blasts in Jaipur and elsewhere till the controversial Batla House encounter took place in Delhi on September 19, 2008, and some alleged IM operatives were arrested in Mumbai and Pune.
Granting bail to Mr. Ahmad, Justice Pankaj Bhandari at the High Court’s Jaipur Bench expressed surprise at the fact that he was not arrested in the ninth case when he was “languishing” in jail. “I am using the term ‘languishing in jail’ because [the] petitioner remained in custody for 12 years and was ultimately found not guilty in all cases,” the Judge observed in his three-page order.
When the court asked the Advocate General why Mr. Ahmad was not arrested earlier, he was clueless. The Advocate General also could not explain why Mr. Ahmad was arrested in the ninth FIR when he was held not guilty in eight similar FIRs. “There is no reason for arresting him after 12 years of lodging the FIR, when the allegations in all the FIRs are same,” the court said.
The Supreme Court had on January 8 this year granted bail to Mr. Ahmad in another case registered against him in 2019 with the allegation that he had assaulted prison officials to obstruct a search by them. Mr. Ahmad had claimed that he was tortured in the jail and had received injuries.