The murder of defense counsel of Fahim Ansari and those accused in Malegaon blast of 2006 is really very disturbing. It brings to mind how some of those alleged to be involved in 1993 serial blasts were bumped off by targeted assassination. The death of Shahid Azmi in the evening of February 11, 2010 is in a series of lawyers thrashed, shot at, injured or killed across the country in the aftermath of bomb blasts. Azmi is the third lawyer killed in Mumbai. In such cases the alleged terrorists were invariably suspected to be Muslims and if any Muslim lawyer showed any desire to defend the accused he was subjected to two heart wrenching problems. One, he would be targeted for engaging himself in antinational activity. Two, he would run mortal risk while discharging a duty that the constitution of the land allows him.
Lawyers daring to defend Muslims allegedly involved in terrorism have had a very awfully difficult and dangerous time. They were attacked and killed, injured and made to go through great hardship. This does not reflect well on the country, a democracy avowed to live by secularism. Many of them were set upon by hooligans and beaten up. This often happened when the police personnel were standing idly and did not do anything to protect the lawyers. Even within the precincts of the courts.
The kind of threats held out to the investigation authorities (like ATS chief Hemant Karkare) or lawyers intending to defend the accused (Shahid Azmi) does not die. It is kept alive with every sporadic bomb blast. No other than MNS chief Raj Thackeray had made such threats. He had issued threats to lawyers who wanted to defend the accused in the 7/11 2006 local train blasts in Mumbai. The advocate general of Maharashtra Mr Ravi Kadam had even given his consent to try Raj Thackeray on criminal charges. Raj had threatened violence while he was paying tribute to more than 180 people killed in the blasts. Such emotive reaction is a rabble rousing technique and instigative of taking law in one’s hand and thereby lowering the position of the court and the law. Delhi lawyer Shakeel Ahmed had dared to defend Kamal Ansari, Khalid Shaikh and Mumtaz Chaudhary arrested from Bihar for their alleged involvement in 7/11.
Shahid had been the product of the judicial system of Mumbai. It nurtured him like a mother. But in the end the by product of it claimed him. That by product is the reactionary dark forces unleashed by those who do not want to accept its verdict or countenance it with equanimity. ‘‘It is a very unfortunate incident. He was an upcoming lawyer and very polite in court,’’ said Ujwala Nikam, special prosecutor.
In 1995 Shahid was arrested by Delhi police for being a member of SIM. While serving jail term he graduated and after release completed his law course and started practice. Mostly he took cases of innocent Muslims who were harassed and then arrested and tortured by the police. In the case of the fake encounter and murder of Ishrat Jehan he played a pivotal role to get justice to the bereaved family. Apparently free from narrow sectarianism his work and cause irked the Hindutva groups.
Diametrically opposed to their clamour for more and more draconian laws to deal with terror, he pleaded in court against the application of MOCOCA as well as POTA for his clients. His successful pleading in the Ghatkopar blasts case of 2002 led to the abrogation of POTA. Of the eighteen charged he got nine discharged. Police inspector Sachin Vaze killed Khwaja Yunus and disposed off the body. The remaining eight were acquitted by the POTA special court. Similarly his argument that MOCOCA can be applied in cases of organized crimes but not terror ultimately became instrumental in SC staying the three cases of 2006: 11/7 Mumbai serial blasts in locals, Malegaon bomb blasts, and the Aurangabad arms haul. The section 2 (1)(e) of MOCOCA focuses on “causing insurgency” could not be justified just on the basis of confession unless corroborated by circumstantial and hard evidence. It was a moment for reforming the harsh laws. This naturally brought praise from Ujwala Nikam. Shahid’s was successful in preventing the screening of the film Black Friday in order not to prejudice the mind of the public in the 1993 trial. This was also a welcome move in the judiciary system.
What the Americans were doing in Guantanamo, Abu Gharib and Bagram prisons was also going on in the Arthur Road prison under the supervision and direct involvement of the jail superintendent Swathi Sathe. Shahid graphically delineated the torture. The accused were brutally assaulted in the prison with Sathe taking part in it. One had his arm broken and another had his head broken. A son of one of the accused saw his father being taken away in police van with blood still oozing as he waited with a tiffin box he was carrying for his father. The madam wanted them to confess to the crimes the police alleged they had committed. She claimed that they had created insurgency there while they were being transferred to other prisons. Even the transfer of the prisoners was illegal and violated the norms. The judges found it very unbecoming of her and passed stricture against her and she was transferred. Her ‘transfer’ was without loss of pay or blood while theirs was so sanguinary
Shahid’s brief life of 32 years was potent in works as far as fight for the prisoner is concerned. He was a ‘prisoner of conscience’ himself, a TADA prisoner who never felt shy about it. He reminds one of the famous English lawyer who founded Amnesty International to free the innocents imprisoned on cooked up charges.
By Mustafa Khan, 14 February, 2010, Countercurrents.org