Mumbai: Who killed Shahid Azmi? While clear clues are still absent a day after the high-profile criminal lawyer was shot dead at his Kurla office, some in the legal fraternity and inner circle believe he was bumped off for being ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘anti-police’.
Pegging his argument on the ‘motive’ behind the crime, senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan alleged that the only people who could have had a motive in getting rid of Azmi were the police. “Shahid is the only lawyer who had the maximum cases showing that the police were fabricating evidence,” Bhushan said.
The anti-establishment theory gained credence late on Thursday night after Bharat Nepali, a gangster, reportedly owned up to the killing. Nepali is a close aide of underworld don Chhota Rajan. The Rajan gang is known to target people who have an image of being ‘anti-establishment’ or ‘anti-national’.
The Mumbai crime branch is also looking at the possibility of Nepali having ordered and masterminded the killing. A crime branch officer who is part of the probe team said the sophistication with which the killing was executed indicates that it was not the handiwork of a local or small-time criminal. “Imported weapons were used in the execution. Only underworld gangs like those of Rajan and Dawood Ibrahim are known to use imported weapons in killings,” the officer said.
“We have registered a case of murder. We found four empty cartridges at the place of the offence. We are investigating all possible angles to ascertain the exact motive behind the murder,” said senior police inspector Vijay Bagve of Kurla police station. He added that Azmi had registered a complaint against the Ravi Poojari gang on October 19, 2006, stating that the gang had threatened to kill him.
Joint commissioner of police, crime, Rakesh Maria was noncommittal. “We have received a few leads in the case and the investigation is on the right track.’’ He refused to comment further on the case.
Thirty-two-year-old Azmi, who was the defence lawyer for 26/11 accused Faheem Ansari, was involved in a number of contentious cases that pitted him against the state and the police. “This can’t be an ordinary murder. Azmi did not have enmity with anyone,” said P Sebastian, human rights lawyer.
Sebatian said there was no reason why the underworld would want to eliminate him. “He didn’t come in their way. They would not get involved. It is a way to silence people who fight for justice,” he added.
Meanwhile, the police, based on the first-hand information provided by 23-year-old Inder Singh, Azmi’s peon, have prepared and released the sketch of one of the suspected assassins. In his complaint, Inder Singh, who is an eye-witness in the case, reportedly stated that three persons, aged between 25 and 30, entered Azmi’s office posing as clients. They opened fire immediately after meeting Azmi. Singh, who was waiting outside, rushed into the office, but was threatened at gun-point by the assailants. The trio left in a hurry.
(With inputs from Dayanand Kamath)
Nikhil S Dixit / DNA, 13 Feb 2010
Slain lawyer’s mother was worried as he was taking on terror cases
Three unidentified men fired four rounds at criminal lawyer Shahid Azmi after barging into his Kurla office on Thursday night. Azmi, a divorcee is survived by his mother and two brothers. He was handling several high-profile cases like the 26/11 attacks, the 7/11 train blasts, the Malegaon 2006 blasts, the Aurangabad arms seizure, the Ajit Dewani murder case, the 2002 Ghatkopar blasts case, the 2003 Mulund blasts and the recent Haj House imam case among others.
Having been on the wrong side of the law for more than a decade, Azmi made a pledge to his family and friends that he would master law and defend those who were falsely implicated. The TADA court had convicted Azmi, and sentenced him to a five-year jail term for allegedly conspiring to kill former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. However, Azmi pursued a college degree when he was behind bars from 1992 to 1999.
Cracking a postgraduate course in creative writing before being released in 1999, he enrolled for an LLB course with the KC College after the Supreme Court acquitted him. During his last year, he practised as an intern with noted criminal lawyer Majjd Memon in 2002.
But from 2003, Azmi started his own law firm in a tiny 100 sq-feet room on the first floor of the archaic Esplanade Mansion Building at Kalaghoda. He carved a niche for himself as criminal lawyer by taking up controversial cases. He has handled a slew of MCOCA, POTA, and TADA cases other than the usual murder, robbery and rape cases.
Known for his calm, yet compelling demeanour even while being in the midst of a heated courtroom argument, Azmi would put most witnesses in a pickle by grilling them over the subtlest of contradictions and loopholes. Challenging the validity of the MCOCA in the 7/11 blasts case, Azmi petitioned the SC on behalf of accused Zameer Rehman, due to which the trial was stayed. Azmi’s proximity with controversial cases even had his family worried sometimes.
Soon after the 26/11 terror attacks, when asked why he wasn’t interested in defending Ajmal Qasab, he said, “My mother is already worried about the kind of cases I handle, especially the terror ones. She restrains me from nurturing more of such headaches.” However, months later, Azmi accepted Qasab’s co-accused Fahim Ansari’s case and deftly cross-examined a couple of witnesses related to Ansari.
The intelligence agencies kept a close watch on him after he took up the 7/11 blasts and Malegaon blast cases. Given his background, agencies suspected that he was being funded by the ISI. However, no evidence could be found to this effect and he was eventually given a clean chit.
Sudeep Pasbola, who Azmi frequently appointed as a counsel to fight the criminal cases said, “This is shocking and nobody has a clue as to who could be behind this. I don’t know anybody who had any rivalry with Shahid. He was an excellent lawyer and this incident is most unfortunate.”
On Thursday evening, few minutes before Shahid left for his Kurla office, lawyer Mubin Solkar met him at the Sessions Court library at around 6.15 pm. “He was a little busy on his phone, so I couldn’t talk to him. We were to prepare our bail applications before the Bombay High Court in the Mulund blasts case. I can’t believe he is no more,” Solkar said. Special Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian said, “He was an intelligent man and a very sharp lawyer.”
By Anand Holla, Mumbai Mirror, February 12, 2010
Azmi murder: Family blames Mumbai cops
MUMBAI: Slain advocate Shahid Azmi’s family has held Mumbai police responsible for his killing, even as cops are yet to make a breakthrough in his murder.
‘‘In 2007, my brother had got threatening calls and in 2008 he had again reminded police that somebody was following him. Our only contention is that why did the police remove his security cover?,’’ asked his brother.
The family alleged role of some central agency as Azmi was instrumental in fighting many terror-related cases including defending 26/11 accused Fahim Ansari. He was representing Ansari accused of supplying target maps to LeT operatives in Pakistan.
‘‘My brother had told us once that he knew the consequences he would have to face because he was fighting against the system which had falsely implicated innocent persons in the blast cases,’’ said Azmi’s elder brother.
‘‘Otherwise, tell me what is the reason for killing a criminal lawyer who has in many cases fought freely for the poor. In fact, one of the callers who had threatened him in 2008, expressed his surprise that he stayed in a middle-class housing society,’’ said Azmi’s younger brother.
S Ahmed Ali, TNN, 15 February 2010
Thousands gather at Azmi's funeral
Neeta Kolhatkar / DNA
Mumbai: Tension was evident at the Taximen’s Colony in Kurla (West) as
advocate Shahid Azmi’s body was taken in a procession for funeral
prayers and then buried at the Kurla crematorium on Friday. Thousands
of people gathered to bid farewell to the slain advocate, including
Fahim Ansari’s wife. However, the presence of around 100 policemen in
plain clothes deterred many. Except for Samajwadi Party Maharashtra
president, Abu Azmi, no Muslim politician came forward to pay their
condolences. “He fought for the poor and did not charge them any fee.
He was a true human rights lawyer. The state has failed to provide him
security and did not take the threats to him seriously,” said the
Still coming to terms with their loss, Azmi’s family and relatives are
outraged by the media’s portrayal of the 32-year-old lawyer. “So many
papers and channels said things that were untrue,” said Azmi’s cousin
sister who did not wish to be named.“He was kind-hearted and honest.
Look at the family’s financial condition, but he never asked anyone for
Those close to the family said that Azmi’s mother has been
inconsolable. “When he was released from Tihar jail, khala would sit by
his bedside and look at him. She was relieved that he was back home
safe and sound,” said a relative.
The lawyer fraternity is shocked and believes that a just voice has
been silenced. “By killing Azmi the attackers are saying don’t take
such cases,” said Anand Teltumbde, member of Committee for Protection
of Democratic Rights.
Shahid Azmi: Short career, long-lasting impact
Mumbai: Advocate Shahid Azmi, 32, was a strong advocate of reforming the criminal justice system. Here are some high points of his career.
3 major trials stayed
Azmi got the three big trials of 2006 — the July 11 Mumbai train blasts, the Malegaon blasts, and the Aurangabad arms haul — stayed by challenging the use of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. “MCOCA is only applicable in cases of organised crime, not terror,” he said. He argued that section 2(1)(e) of the MCOCA, which includes “promoting insurgency”, was unconstitutional. The catch was that if use of the law were to be struck down, the cases would fall flat as the confessions of the accused were only admissible as evidence under MCOCA. The high court rejected Azmi’s application, but Supreme Court stayed the trials in February 2008.
Ghatkopar blast 2002
Prime accused Arif Paanwala was acquitted in 2006. The police applied the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) in the case and arrested 18 suspects. Nine were discharged; one, Khwaja Yunus, died in custody; a special Pota court acquitted the other eight for lack of evidence. The case was a milestone in Azmi’s career. It led to Pota’s repeal.
Azmi saw that the film on the probe into the 1993 blasts was not released before the trial was completed. He said it would prejudice public opinion and the courts.
Prisoners have rights
In the 11/7 case, Azmi filed a petition in the high court in July 2008 alleging torture of the accused in Arthur Road jail. The high court ordered an inquiry which found the allegations to be true.
Council of Indian Muslims deplores Pune blast and Shahid Azmi’s killing
LONDON: Advocate Shahid Azmi’s brutal and cowardly murder is an attack on India’s democratic system and its judiciary and the Pune blast may also be the handy work of the same forces that were involved in Azmi’s assassination, a condolence meeting organised by Council of Indian Muslims—UK (CIM) was told Sunday night.
Azmi, 32, known for the highest number of acquittals of Muslims implicated in false cases and detained under terrorism laws, was gunned down Thursday while only two days later, Saturday, a powerful bomb blast in Pune killed nine people and injured several others.
Attendees prayed for Azmi and the victims of Pune attack and demanded the Indian Government to institute an independent inquiry into both the cases.
Addressing the meeting CIM’s General Secretary Salim Patel said, “Both incidents are highly deplorable and appear to be acts designed to thrust India into anarchy. Indications that law enforcement agencies might themselves be involved in Shahid Azmi’s murder are far more alarming than any other aspect of the incident. Whoever is behind the assassination of this young, self-made and efficient lawyer has deprived the community of a worthy advocate.”
Patel also said, “One wonders if the Pune blast is also the work of those who were behind Azmi’s assassination to divert everyone’s attention from their crime."
The meeting attended by CIM members was addressed by several representatives of the community.
Punjab Newsline Network, 15 February 2010
City lawyers mourn death of colleague
MUMBAI: The murder of defence lawyer Shahid Azmi has shocked the legal community not just in Mumbai, but across the country. The 32-year-old lawyers popularity in his community was evident—close to a thousand people including a number of his colleagues showed up at his Kurla (West) home on Friday to pay their last respects.
The question that is haunting lawyers and residents of the Taximen Colony where Azmi lived (and was gunned down) is how three armed assailants were able to flee the murder scene so easily. “It is a long 200-300-metre walk from the scene of the crime to the main gate of the complex. A watchman is also posted at the entrance,’’ said a resident.
In his brief but upcoming career, Azmi has represented those accused in the 26/11 attack, the train blasts in Mumbai, Malegaon blasts, among others. Lawyers, even those who worked closely with Azmi, are at a loss over why a hit was ordered on one of their own. “He was soft-spoken and friendly. His murder is every unfortunate,’’ said Aabad Ponda, a defence lawyer.
Azmi had once been attached with the chamber of veteran criminal law counsel Majeed Memon. When contacted, Memon said: “It is very sad that lawyers should be victimised by people who have no fear of the law. The fact that he was defending 26/11 accused Fahim Ansari as well as a number of accused in a series of blast cases cannot be a reason to kill anyone in a civil society. When a lawyer defends an accused in blast cases, he is only seeking justice from courts of law and cannot be seen to be aiding and abetting the criminals or the crime.’’
Advocate Taraq Sayed, another defence counsel, recalled how he was with Azmi a day before the hit, on Wednesday. “We were working on a counterfeit currency case. He was defending two co-accused; we were to argue the matter the following Monday.’’ He said that the legal community must “stand together and not just condemn the killing, but ensure that the culprits are brought to book.’’ Ponda concurred. “The legal fraternity should not tolerate attacks on their members.’’
Advocate Ayaz Khan who attended the funeral said: “He had a bright future ahead of him. The murder has come as a jolt out of the blue.’’ Commenting on news reports of Azmi having written to the police chief about the alleged threat he received, advocate Rajendra Shirodkar said, “Whatever the standing of a lawyer, if he complains of receives threats, the police must take it seriously.’’
Swati Deshpande, TNN, 13 February 2010
Azmi was smart, dedicated to work: Ansari’s Rampur lawyer
For Mohammad Shoaib — 26/11 accused Fahim Ansari’s advocate in a criminal case at Rampur — Shahid Azami’s death came as a shock. Attacked thrice for taking up cases of the terror accused, he couldn’t believe “somebody could go to the extent of killing an advocate for representing an accused in a court of law”.
“In the morning, (Fahim’s wife)Yasmin had called and said that Azmi had sent certified copies of the papers I needed and she would send these soon,” said Shoaib. “Instances of harassment and intimidation of defence lawyers by organised groups across the country are increasing and there is little remedy.”
Shoaib had met Azmi, Ansari’s Mumbai lawyer, only once, but he came across as “a young, smart lawyer, dedicated to his work”. “I noticed that Azmi had a thorough knowledge of 26/11 and also had good information about the Rampur case,” he said.
At Rampur, Ansari is facing charges under the Arms Act, the Explosives Act, and those of criminal conspiracy. The chargesheet has been filed and even the charges have been framed, but the trial came to a halt after Ansari was transferred to Mumbai in June 2009 to face trial in the 26/11 case.
Shoaib was first attacked by a group of lawyers in Lucknow in August 2008 because he had taken up the case of the accused in serial court blasts which occurred in November 2007. He had to spend two days in hospital. In June 2008, he was attacked by a group of lawyers in Faizabad court and the police had tough time recusing him. Later, he was attacked by advocates in Barabanki and he saved himself by running away. (Indian Express, 13 Feb 2010)
Maharashtra Govt. should order CBI probe into Adv. Shahid Azmi’s murder: SDPI
Bhopal: The Social Democratic Party of India, (SDPI), stunned at the brutal murder of Advocate Shahid Azmi of Mumbai has urged the Maharashtra Government to order Central Bureau of Investigation, (CBI), probe into the assassination.
Adv. Shahid, who was defending one of the co-accused in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, the accused in the Mumbai train serial blasts and other terror related cases in which Muslim youths have been arrested, was assassinated by unidentified persons in his office on Thursday last.
A. Sayeed, General Secretary SDPI, in a Press release while condemning the murder said the party believes that Shahid Azmi was bumped off for being ‘anti-establishment’ and ‘anti-police’. It allegedly seems that the only people who could have had a motive in getting rid of Azmi were the police. He was the only lawyer who had the maximum cases showing that the police were fabricating evidence against Muslim community, especially the youth.
It is unfortunate to state that a prominent lawyer who worked selflessly, tirelessly for the cause of oppressed Muslims was under threat for over a year but he was not provided security cover by the Maharashtra Government. It is a murder most foul, the release said.
The prophecy that he would die a martyr came true as Shahid himself used to say to his family and friends: "I would die a shaheed”.
It would be in the fitness of things that the Maharashtra Government should order for a probe by the CBI and approach the Central Government for the same. The accused should be nabbed at the earliest and handed over exemplary punishment. This would re-instill confidence among the minorities who are disillusioned by the present regime’s uncaring attitude towards it, the release added.