– Anwarulhaq Baig
New Delhi, Nov. 14, 2023
The Association for the Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) has secured bail for two Muslim youths from Varanasi, who were allegedly linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI) under UAPA.
Speaking to Radiance, APCR’s UP in-charge, Advocate Najmussaquib Khan informed that Rais Ahmed Ansari and Parvez Ahmad were arrested on May 6, 2023, in Varanasi in connection with the PFI, which was declared an unlawful association by the Union government for five years under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) on Sep. 28, 2022. However, the PFI moved the Supreme Court against the ban. Following the ban, hundreds of people or activists allegedly linked to the PFI were detained or arrested in a pan-India crackdown by agencies.
Advocate Najmussaquib told Radiance that Rais and Parvez were charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and UAPA in a case registered at the Adampur Police Station, Varanasi, on September 24, 2022, after the raids against PFI, in which the main accused, Mohammad Shahid and Rizwan Ahmed, had already been granted bail in Feb. 2023.
According to Advocate Najmussaquib, the defense counsels of the APCR, including himself and his entire team, argued in a Special NIA/ATS Court in Lucknow District, Uttar Pradesh, that both accused were innocent and had been falsely implicated. They alleged that the accused’s signatures were forcefully obtained on blank papers while they were in custody at the police station. Presenting evidence, the APCR counsels contended that the accused had no previous criminal history and that intelligence agencies found no evidence that they were associated with PFI or any other banned organization.
The defense counsels argued that the police found nothing criminal or suspicious during the raids of the accused’s homes, and then called the accused to the police station for questioning, where they were falsely implicated in the PFI case.
According to the bail pleas, the police wrongfully arrested both individuals after falsely claiming to have seized evidence and no case or crime can be established against both the accused under the sections of the law they were charged with while they have not made any speeches inciting people to violence, and they have no intention of creating unrest in society.
The defense counsels submitted in the court that Sub-inspector Bharat Bhushan Tiwari was wrongly appointed as the investigating officer of the case, although it is a known rule that no police officer below the rank of Deputy SP can be appointed to this position under the UAPA Act.
The defense further contended that both the accused were named solely on the basis of the statement of a co-accused in the case, which was not enough to establish the charges. When the FIR was registered against them, the PFI was not a banned outfit. During the investigation, no evidence was found that either of the accused was a member of or involved in any activity of the organization after the ban.
According to defense counsels, in a similar PFI case, Rais and Parvez were granted bail in an FIR registered against them at the Lohta police station in Varanasi, and the main accused, Shahid and Rizwan, have been also granted bail.
In January 2023, the Special Judge NIA/ATS Lucknow granted bail to 27-year-old labourer Abdullah Saud Ansari, in the same FIR, which was registered during September 2022 raids at Lohta police station.
To support their bail pleas, the defense counsels have also cited various judgments delivered by the Supreme Court.
After hearing the arguments, special Judge of NIA/ATS Lucknow, Dinesh Kumar Mishra granted them bail on furnishing a bail bond of Rs.100,000 along with two sureties of the same amount for both the accused.
Welcoming the court’s decision, the Delhi based civil rights body APCR has reiterated its commitment to upholding civil rights and safeguarding the principles of justice.
Advocate Najmussaquib also informed Radiance that APCR was also instrumental in securing bails for other main and co-accused persons, including Rizwan, Shahid, and Saud Ansari, in both the cases registered in Adampur and Lohta police stations in Varanasi, related to PFI.
The special NIA/ATS court in Lucknow on February 9, 2023 had granted bail to Shahid and Rizwan, who were arrested by NIA for having links with PFI. The court then reprimanded the investigating officer and the Additional Public Prosecutor for handling the case.
Shahid and Ahmad were arrested on Sep. 24, 2022, after an FIR was registered against them, alleging that the two were involved in anti-national activities and were conspiring to divide India and make it an Islamic nation by 2047.
The same FIR which was also invoked against Rais and Parvez, alleges that with the intention of disturbing the peaceful environment of Varanasi or inciting Muslims in the Gyanvapi Masjid case to collect funds, these individuals are utilizing money for anti-national agenda under the guise of PFI. Moreover, the suspect, Mohammad Shahid, was allegedly conducting firearms training under the guise of running a Taekwondo class, and distributing objectionable literature or pamphlets about Nupur Sharma’s controversial comment and against the abrogation of Article 370 to instigate the Muslim youth to carry out anti-national activities. The FIR claims that these people of the PFI cadre, under cover of the organization, are making the Muslims fundamentalist and declaring the Hindus as Kafirs. FIRs also alleges that the accused were arrested with objectionable literature and anti-national contents concerning making India an Islamic nation, implementing the Sharia law in India, and carrying out Ghazwa-e-Hind by 2047, etc.
Reminding all concerned parties to ensure a fair and unbiased trial for the accused, the APCR said, “It firmly stands for the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” and that the accused should be treated with dignity and given a fair chance to defend themselves against the charges they face.” Urging authorities to refrain from any undue influence or harassment, the APCR called upon all parties involved to maintain the sanctity of the judicial process.
Efforts of civil groups like APCR come out at a time when there is growing concern about the rights of defendants especially Muslims held under stringent laws, including UAPA, in recent years. Some critics have accused the authorities of deliberately targeting members of the Muslim community.