While the rest of the crime reporters were busy taking down what the police or Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) was putting out in Mumbai, journalist Ashish Khetan formerly with Tehelka, says he struck out on his own to go beyond the official versions of “terrorists”and terror cases. His year-long investigation into three major cases of bomb blasts has exposed horrific truths about the way in which the ATS, the Maharashtra police and police from other states have functioned with impunity and virtually condemned and tortured 21 young men because they were Muslims.
Khetan’s investigative journalism portal aptly named Gulail (or slingshot in English) has “ unearthed internal documents from more than half a dozen anti-terror agencies that show that the State has been knowingly prosecuting innocent Muslims for terror cases and keeping the evidence of their innocence from the courts.”
At a press conference on Wednesday to present his investigation and screen a film with candid interviews of accused Muslim men, Mr Khetan also said he had sent a letter petition to the Bombay high court with nearly 400 pages of evidence in the form of official investigation and interrogation reports of the accused men and other documents which clearly indicate huge discrepancies. The petition said that his research into the July 11, 2006, train blasts, the Malegaon 2006 blasts and the Pune German Bakery blasts of February 2010 show that the ATS has deliberately created bogus evidence, extracted false confessions by the most inhuman torture, planted explosives in the houses of the young men and implicated innocent youth. In the name of internal security, the ATS and other agencies were misleading the courts, Khetan said.
Senior police officials have been named by the young men in their interviews, where they speak of torture and abuse and pressure to turn approver for large sums of money. A senior police officer even expressed his helplessness and said it was important for them to find some accused since they were unable to crack the case. There are different versions of the same case notably Malegaon 2006 where the NIA has just filed a chargesheet. Seven of the nine men arrested earlier were released on bail in 2011.
Khetan said he wasn’t out to prove anyone’s guilt but expose the farcical criminal investigation which also reflected deepset anti Muslim prejudice. What is serious is that one of these men Himayat Baig has been given the death sentence for the Pune German Bakery blasts when clearly police had found evidence of another man’s involvement. The case of Qateel Sheikh who died in a high security Pune prison just before he was to testify in a Delhi court is not longer a mystery going by what Khetan’s documents show. The ATS arrested Himayat Baig from Udgir and claimed he had carried out the German Bakery blast. However, a year later the Delhi police arrested Qatil Siddiqui and Interrogation Reports obtained by Khetan show he is linked to the Pune blast. These reports were not produced in the court which finally gave Baig the death sentence. Police then tweaked reports to show Sheikh’s involvement in another case.
Presenting all the facts, Khetan has asked the high court to order an independent commission of inquiry into the conduct of the investigating officers, action against officers guilty of violations and relief for the victims of such operations.