NEW DELHI DEC. 18. The special POTA court today sentenced to death S.A.R. Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru, and Mohammed Afzal — the three men convicted of conspiring with the five terrorists (killed in a shootout with the security forces), the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief, Masood Azhar, and the JeM ``commander" in Kashmir, Ghazi Baba — for the December 13 attack on Parliament. They were awarded the death sentence for offences under Section 3(2) of POTA (indulging in terrorist acts leading to deaths) and Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (murder).
The court rejected the plea of leniency made on behalf of Afsan Guru, wife of Shaukat Hussain Guru, who has been convicted of concealing knowledge of the conspiracy, and sentenced her to five years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 10,000.
The designated judge, S. N. Dhingra, pronouncing the sentence, said that he "considers that she deserves no leniency.'' Making no mention of her pregnant condition at the time of the conspiracy, he said that "there is no doubt that she was having a difficult choice of going against her husband'' but that "she had to give priority to the nation and society.'' Geelani, Guru and Afzal have also been sentenced to life imprisonment on seven counts. One each under IPC Sections 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against state) and Section 122 (collecting arms with the intention to wage war against state); under POTA, for abetting terrorist acts, Section 3 (3) and harbouring terrorists, Section 3 (4); and membership of a terrorist gang, Section 3 (5) and possession of unauthorised arms etc. under Section 4 (b); and under Section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act. They have also been awarded a cumulative 30 years' rigorous imprisonment, for charges under Section 4 of the Explosive Substances Act and Section 307 of IPC (attempt to murder), and fines totalling Rs. 8.6 lakhs.
As he was led away, Geelani, suspended lecturer of Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University, asserted his innocence. "By convicting innocents, you cannot suppress emotion. Peace comes with justice. Without justice there will be no democracy, it is Indian democracy that is under threat.''
An agitated Shuakat Hussain, former student of the Delhi University, said, "if asking for the liberation of Kashmir is terrorism, then I am a terrorist.''
The surrendered militant of the JKLF, Mohammed Afzal, said: "you are journalists of an independent country, you should report independently. But all you do is report what police wants you to.''
As information about the sentence spread, Shiv Sena members, flanked by police vehicles, burst crackers outside the court.
And inside the court, as the judge got up to leave after pronouncing the sentence, lawyers from the Patiala House courts, who had filled the courtroom, shouted "kill them, they are terrorists.''
In his 296-page judgment, Mr. Dhingra said the attack on Parliament was the handiwork of forces which wanted to "destroy the country and cripple it by killing or capturing its entire political executive, including the Prime Minister and the Home Minister... captivate entire legislature and the Vice-President, who were in Parliament.''
Commenting on issues of evidence, the judge said that the single-judge order of the Delhi High Court, declaring the telephone interception by police as inadmissible in evidence, was non-est as the "single judge is not authorised'' to hear the appeal against the order of the designated judge.
Commending the investigating agencies, he said that they "perform a tough job.''
On the question of discrepancies in the police evidence and instances of evidence being tampered with, raised by defence counsel, he said it was the "usual practice nowadays to flog the investigating agencies.''
Defence counsel, Nitya Ramakrishnan, commenting on the judgment, said, "from several assumptions and conjectures in the judgment, which even prosecution did not care to assert in court, it appears that the learned designated court has added to the fund of prosecution material and the defence laments that it was not awarded the privilege of cross-examining the source.''
Sima Gulati, counsel for S. A. R. Geelani, declined to comment on the judgment as she had not fully read it.
"We will appeal against this verdict. This order is not sustainable in law. There is simply not enough evidence to convict Geelani,'' she said.
The other three persons, Afsan Guru, her husband and Afzal will also appeal against their convictions. They have 30 days to file their appeals before the Delhi High Court.