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After 20 years, Indian court acquits 122 Muslims

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A court in Gujarat's Surat on Saturday acquitted all the 127 accused arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for participating in a meeting organized in December 2001. Five accused had died during the pendency of trial.

Most of the accused were in jail for over 20 years since their arrest over the allegations of being members of Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) that was banned in September 2020.

The court of Chief Judicial Magistrate AN Dave on Saturday acquitted 127 persons arrested on the charges of being members of the banned outfit SIMI. In its order, the court said that the prosecution failed to produce "cogent, reliable and satisfactory" evidence to establish that the accused persons belonged to the SIMI and had gathered to promote the activities of the banned outfit.

The court said the accused persons cannot be held guilty under the UAPA. As many as 127 persons were arrested by Surat's Athwalines police on December 28, 2001, under various sections of the UAPA for allegedly being members of the banned outfit SIMI and organizing a meeting at a hall in city's Sagrampura to promote and expand the organization's activities.

In their defense, the group said that they had gathered in the hall to participate in a seminar organized under the All India Minority Education Board banner, and were not members of SIMI. They had been in the city solely for religious and educational purposes and participate in the seminar in a peaceful manner According to the Indian Express, IGP PK Roushan, who had supervised the investigation said that upon verification it was found that the organization, said to be registered in Delhi did not exist.

Defense Advocate

Speaking to ANI, defense advocate Abdul Wahab Shaikh said the court acquitted the accused after accepting the defense arguments.

"In 2001, people from various parts of the country participated in an event organized at Rajeshree Hall in the Sagrampura area under the banner of All India Minority Education Board. The police raided the event in the night on December 27 as it thought SIMI members were participating in the event. Police arrested many people. The hearing of the case went on for 20 years," he said.

"On Saturday, the court acquitted all the 127 accused. The court accepted defense arguments stating that the accused did not belong to the SIMI and had gathered there to participate in a seminar organized under the banner of the All India Minority Education Board. The court acquitted all the accused persons and said they cannot be held guilty under the UAPA," he added.

Of the 127, 111 were present in court on Saturday. Maulana Ataur Rehman Wazdi, now 85-year-old, said that they were shunned by everybody after the arrests. "Nobody talked to us or listened to us," Wazdi said. "I have lived all these years with the taint of being an anti-national. Now we will at least die free."

Ziauddin Siddiqui, another accused who was acquitted, said he first learnt what he was being accused of from television and newspapers. He was a member of SIMI from 1984 to 1993, when the organization was not banned. He had "retired" from the organization upon turning 30.

"The court has given us "honorable acquittal" for the lack evidence after 20 years, but my question is what about those who implicated us and made us and our family suffer during all those years. We were in jail for almost one year and even after the bail we had to attend the court on monthly basis" said Ziauddin Siddiqui, ex general secretary of SIMI.

"We lost our jobs, our businesses suffered enormously, we are the highly qualified people. Our question is will the action be taken against those who implicated us falsely?" asks Siddiqui.

We also want it make sure that others don't suffer like us in future, he added.

The arrested belong to 10 Indian states

The arrested belong to 10 Indian states. The largest number 44 were from Maharashtra followed by Gujarat 26, Madhya Pradesh 13, Karnataka 11, Uttar Pradesh 10, Rajasthan 9, West Bengal 4, Tamil Nadu 4, Bihar 2 and Chattisgarh 1. All of them have been remanded to police custody.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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