NATIONAL

Police protest arrest of officers in custodial death case

MUMBAI, MARCH 12. The arrest of four police officers on March 5 in connection with the custodial death of a POTA detenu, Khwaja Yunus, has raised a storm of protest in the ranks of the Mumbai police.

The court in Vikhroli, where the policemen were produced, saw hundreds of their colleagues and their wives demonstrating against the arrest.

The Shiv Sena and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad also joined in, saying that such action left the country open to terrorist attacks.

"Humiliation"

The arrested police officers, senior inspector Praful Bhosale, assistant police inspectors Hemant Desai and Ashok Khot and inspector Rajaram Vhanmane — all members of an award-winning team of the Ghatkopar Crime Intelligence Unit — have been remanded to custody till March 15.

"Encounter" specialist, Inspector Vijay Salaskar, who was present at the court to offer support, said it was unfortunate that senior policemen with good track record had to face such humiliation. "We have decided to help them legally."

The case of Khwaja Yunus goes back to December 23, 2002, when the 26-year-old engineer was picked up near his house in Parbhani.

The sole breadwinner in his family with a job in Dubai, Yunus was brought to Mumbai along with Abdul Matin and two others and charged under POTA on January 3, 2003 for their alleged role in the Ghatkopar bomb blasts. One of them, Zaheer Sheikh, was discharged.

A judicial inquiry conducted by the Special POTA Judge established that the assistant police inspector, Sachin Vaze's contention that Yunus had escaped from police custody while being taken to Aurangabad for investigation on January 7, 2003, was prima facie not true. The case was handed over to the State CID in May 2003.

"False FIR"

In April 2004, a Division Bench of the Bombay High Court, in response to a habeas corpus petition filed by Yunus' father, held that the FIR filed by Mr. Vaze on the disappearance of Yunus was false and fictitious.

It directed the State to treat the statement of another accused in the bomb blasts case, Abdul Matin, as the FIR. The Supreme Court upheld this.

Dr. Matin stated before the special POTA court that on January 6, 2003, that Yunus was whipped with a belt and kicked on the chest repeatedly by the police during interrogation. As a result he vomited blood.

One day later, he was reported to have escaped while being transported by the police to Aurangabad and has not been seen since.

On March 3, 2004, the CID personnel arrested Mr. Vaze and charged him with murder along with three constables.

The constables, who were missing for over a year, were also out on bail, but have disappeared now. Mr. Vaze, who has been suspended from service, is out on bail.

Faced with protests from the Mumbai police, the CID is sticking to its stand. A CID official told The Hindu that that they were not under any pressure. "Our reason for arresting these officers is based on solid grounds. We have collected a lot of evidence but we will produce it at the time of the charge sheet. We don't want to present the proof right now."

He said that two other policemen who were called for questioning in connection with the case, the Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ambadas Pote, and inspector Arun Borude have pleaded ill health. The two men may be future witnesses, he added.

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