15 Muslims were sentenced in 2015 ISIS-related cases in Delhi on Friday. ‘This is a mockery of the criminal justice system. There is no evidence that these men are actually terrorists,’ says lawyer of the 16th accused who has not pleaded guilty
Shaheen Nazar | Clarion India
NEW DELHI – A SPECIAL court of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Delhi has sentenced 15 Muslims to five to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment (RI) and fines of various amounts.
They were arrested in 2015 on the alleged charges of recruiting Muslim youths to work for ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and commit acts of terror in India. It was also alleged that they were in touch with Syria-based ISIS media chief Yusuf-Al-Hindi. The sentencing was pronounced on October 16.
All the 15 convicts had pleaded guilty. The 16th accused from the lot, Imran Khan, continues to face trial as he has refused to plead guilty. His lawyer Abu Bakar Sabbaq has raised concern over the manner in which the conviction was obtained by the NIA.
“Apart from my client, all the other accused pleaded guilty in the case. This wasn’t because they actually believed they were guilty, but because of pressure tactics from the NIA. We have seen this in many cases now, where people against whom there is little hard evidence suddenly pleading guilty are convicted,” Sabbaq told Clarion India.
The trial in UAPA cases always progresses very slowly, and the accused see no hope of getting out of jail soon. There are instances–rather aplenty–where people have been found innocent only after spending 10-15 years, sometimes more than 20 years in prison.
“So when the NIA or prosecution lawyers tell them to plead guilty and give them hope of being released early, they have a very good reason to agree,” says Sabbaq.
The lawyer’s point may be understood from the pattern of sentencing in the present case. Of the 15 convicts, one person has been awarded 10 years of RI; three persons seven years of RI; one person six years; and the rest of the persons five years each. All of them were arrested in 2015. That means 10 persons have already or almost completed their sentence and they will be released soon. The rest of four will be out in the next one to two years. Only one person will have to remain in jail for five years.
“This is a mockery of the criminal justice system. There is no evidence that these men are actually terrorists. They have given confessional statements under pressure and desperation to get out of jail early. And the NIA has no interest in keeping them in jail as it never appeals to enhance the punishment. They are only interested in getting a victory in court, regardless of the facts,” Sabbaq maintained.
This is the second instance in the last one month where terror accused languishing in jail have pleaded guilty. Last month, three accused in the 2014 Burdwan Blast case filed applications before an NIA Court in Kolkata, pleading guilty to some of the charges. They are among the 31 accused arrested on charges of bomb-making and having links with the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Twenty-four of them have already pleaded guilty on two separate occasions in 2019. They were sentenced to five years to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment by the special NIA court.
The NIA is India’s premier investigating agency which was formed in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. It is empowered to deal with terror-related crimes across states without any special permission from the states. The agency was constituted under the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008.
Apart from setting up the organisation, the Act also provides for special prosecutors, judges and courts to be set up for trying cases investigated by the NIA. Therefore, cases investigated by the NIA are effectively tried under a separate and parallel court system. Also, under the provisions of the UAPA and NIA Act, the prosecutors have an important say in deciding bail applications of the accused. This makes obtaining bail for the accused even more difficult.