Hyderabad blast: Report on arrests/detention of Muslim youths
Report Of The Fact Finding Committee
the arrests/detentions, in connection with the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad,
Dated: 10th October, 2007.
2. Fact finding Committee
3. Basis for the findings of the committee page
4. Findings/ Observations of the committee page
5. Recommendations of the Committee
6. Concluding remarks
We unequivocally and in the strongest terms condemn the twin bomb blasts that occurred in Hyderabad on 25-8-2007. We offer our deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. The perpetrators responsible for these acts of terror and violence must be apprehended and a thorough, in depth investigation made.
After the Mecca Masjid bomb blasts and in spite of the police firing (six people died) the people of Hyderabad showed remarkable restraint and maintained peace. All fears of communal unrest were put to rest in the face of unwavering solidarity and determination of the people, from all communities and sections of society, to overcome the trauma of the terrorist attack. People refused to give a religious identity to the terrorist, as far as they were concerned they were criminals.
However, ever since the twin bomb blasts occurred, there has been great concern and apprehension that indiscriminate, arbitrary detentions/ arrests of Muslim youth have been taking place; and there have been serious allegations that third degree methods are being used to elicit confessions. The Urdu media, especially Siasat Daily has been carrying reports of these detentions and the anguish of the families, on a daily basis. The English media, the police and responsible State officials have maintained deafening silence over these reports.
Petitions/ representations have been sent to the President of India, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Chief Minister and Home Minister of Andhra Pradesh, senior police officials, National and A.P. State Human Rights Commissions, National and A.P. Minority Commission etc. These pleas have gone unanswered. Families have lodged FIRs and Habeas Corpus applications, but with little or no response.
We, therefore, welcome the setting up of an enquiry, by the A.P. Minority Commission, through the appointment of an Advocate Commissioner, Mr. Ravi Chander, to look into the alleged illegal detention and torture of the detainees, in connection with the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad.
In this context a Fact Finding Committee, consisting of Ms. Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, Ms. K. Anuradha, and Mr. Mohammad Afzal was formed to make an independent assessment of the situation. We hope the findings of the Committee will receive serious attention and that some corrective action will ensue.
2. Fact Finding Committee:
A Fact Finding Committee consisting of three social activists, Ms. Nirmala Gopalakrishnan (Apna Watan), Ms. K. Anuradha ( Aman Vedika), and Mr. Mohammad Afzal (Pukar, COVA) was formed on 17th September, 2007, to make an independent assessment of the illegal detentions and torture of those arrested in connection with the twin bomb blasts on 25-8-2007 in Hyderabad.
The Committee accompanied Mr. Ravi Chander on his fact-finding mission. Mr. Ravi Chander was appointed Advocate Commissioner by the A.P. State Minority Commission to look into the illegal detention and torture of those arrested in connection with the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad on the 25th of August, 2007, with Dr. Mahender Reddy, forensic expert, to assist him. The Committee is grateful for this opportunity which provided useful details and insights to their study.
This report is an independent assessment of the situation and was completed on 8th October, 2007.
3. Basis for the findings of the committee
This Report is based on the findings of the Fact Finding Committee comprising of Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, K. Anuradha and Mohammad Afzal, regarding the illegal detentions and torture of those arrested /detained, in connection with the twin blasts, at Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat, in Hyderabad, on 25-8-2007.
The report is based primarily on the Committee members:
3.1 Visit to Charlapally Prison on 18-9-2007.
3.2 Meeting with the Editor, Mr. Zahid Ali Khan, the Managing Editor, Mr. Zaheeruddin, and other associates of The Siasat Daily, on 18-9-2007 at 5-30 pm.
3.3 Statements of parents / family members of some of the detainees, held in Charlapally Prison, those released after being detained and members of NGO's, at a meeting held at Cova on 18-9-2007, at 7-30 pm.
3.4 Statements made by parents / family members of some of the detainees lodged at Charlapally prison, of those whose whereabouts are not known, members of several Civil Society Social Service Organisations, lawyers, social activists, journalists at a meeting held at Siasat, Abids, Hyderabad, on 19-9-2007, at 2-30 pm.
3.5 Teesta Setalvad's meeting with families of detainees, social workers and lawyers, in
connection with the bomb blasts, on 21-9-2007.
3.6 Meeting of families of the detainees and social activists with Mr. Harsh Mander, 27-9-2007.
3.7 Meeting of lawyers and social workers, in connection with the bomb blasts, with Mr. Harsh Mander, 4-10-2007.
3.8 News Papers reports in connection with the bomb blasts.
4. Findings/ observations of the Committee
The task of the Committee was to find out whether there was a prima facie case made out against the police and as to whether there was some truth in the allegation of communal prejudice, illegal detentions and the use of third degree methods on the detainees. The task of matching Human Rights with threats of real or perceived human safety is always a delicate job and the Committee has attempted to make this study as objective as possible. The Committee has tried to convey the perceptions / queries and apprehensions that were brought up repeatedly in the various meetings listed on page-2.
Based on the findings of this study the Committee believes that:
4.1 Indiscriminate and illegal detentions/ arrests have been carried out.
4.1.1 The detainees were not permitted to inform at least one family member of their arrest, neither did the police notify the parents/ families of the detainees within 24 hours, as per the law. For days the whereabouts of the individuals picked up were not known to the families; they did not know what had happened to them. This, in spite of parents / family members making enquiries at the police stations, lodging of missing persons reports and approaching social activists and the media for help. The Siasat Daily Urdu newspaper started publishing reports on a daily basis, of arrests/ detentions, mid-night arrests, stories of 'missing' individuals as frantic family members started flooding their offices with news of their missing sons/ relatives.
4.1.2 The detainees were not produced in court after being picked up / arrested, within 24
(twenty four) hours, as required by the law. According to the statements made by detainees, families of detainees, social workers etc, on the average there was a delay of five days (many cases more ten days), before they were produced in front of a magistrate. Most were produced at night at the residence of magistrates. The detainees say that they were not asked any thing & if they were it was only their name and age. Why did the Magistrate not record physical torture, look for tell tale marks and send the detainees for medical examination? The Committee members could see some tell tale marks of injuries, on some detainees which were still visible, so why could the magistrate not see them?
Most said that they were taken blind folded and kept in far away undisclosed places.
4.1.3 Many were picked up on flimsy grounds, kept in custody and released, after many days of interrogation. For example, the Committee met Hafez Mohammad Bilal Muftahee, age 26 years, at the meeting with the families of the detainees, on 19-9-2007. He told the Committee that the only reason for his detention (reason given to him by the police) was that the police wanted to question him about his association with Rizwan Ghazi. Hafez said that he had taught Rizwan a year ago.
Hafez teaches Koran at the Royal Indian School, is from West Bengal and has been living in Hyderabad for the past six years. He said on 2-9-2007 the police came to his house, they had Rizwan Ghazi with them. Hafez wanted to inform his family, his phone was ringing but he was not allowed to answer it. For five days he was interrogated at an unknown location where he was severely beaten, kicked, hit with sticks on the sole of his feet. After five (5) days he was released. He said he was hospitalised & the records showed that the injuries he had were the result of beatings. Similarly Zulfekar was arrested and kept for fifteen days, where alleged third degree methods were used during interrogation and then released, his family told the Committee, on 18-9-2007. Social workers from Cova said that they had met the boy and that he is absolutely traumatised, and refuses to come out his house or talk to anyone about his ordeal. They also say that he is in dire need of medical attention, from the injuries he sustained during detention.
Family members and NGO's said that many youngsters, like Hafez and Zulfekar were picked up and after being interrogated were released, but refuse to talk for fear of police reprisals. One such youth after requesting that his name not be revealed spoke to Mr. Ravi Chander, Advocate Commissioner, in confidence on 18-9-2007. Mr. Ravi Chander offered to go alone to the houses (or else where) and speak, in confidence, to the young men, released from police custody, if they were afraid to go out of their houses.
4.1.4 Social activists and some lawyers told the Committee, on meetings held on19-8-200 and on 4-10-2007, that some of the suspects or detainees, who have been released and are presently with their families, are shown as absconding in Police records. Some of the names mentioned are that of Zulfekar, Sammi and Mottasim Billa. Parents/ families expressed great fear for the safety of their sons/ wards.
4.1.5 Great concern and anxiety regarding two youngsters, Abdul Majid and Mohammad Shakeel, has been repeatedly expressed. According to what the parents/ family/ social workers, lawyers, members of Siasat told the Committee, Abdul Majid, aged 19, and Mohammad Shakeel, aged 25, were picked up on 31-8-2007 and 8-9-2007 respectively. Their whereabouts were not known till the police announced their arrest on 27-9-2007, at Kachiguda, and produced in court. The Committee, on 19-9-2007, spoke to the families of both Shakeel and Majid, who gave and heart- rendering accounts of their ordeal of searching for their sons. Mohammad Shakeel's sister Shayada (parents were crying uncontrollably and could not speak) told the Committee, on 19-9-2007, that the family had filed a habeas corpus and sent telegrams to Human rights Commission etc, but got no responses.
On 18-9-2007 in his statement to the Committee at Charlapally prison, Sohail Ahmed, one of the detainees said that Majid was in police custody and was in the same lodge as he was. While recounting the third degree procedures he had endured during interrogation, he said that there was another boy there named Majid, who was subjected to worse physical torture. He said Majid's legs and hands were so swollen that hand cuffs could not be removed, that he was vomiting blood and was dehydrated. He said that Majid was given electric shocks repeatedly. He also said that Majid had not been shifted to Charlapally prison like many had. He said that Majid's parents lived in Mosaram
Bagh. The superintendent of Charlapally prison, how ever, told the Committee on the same day, that they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Majid and Shakeel.
According to news reports the police announced the arrest of Majid and Shakeel on 27-9-2007. How ever, in a telegram sent by PS Gopalapuram, Secunderabad on 28-9-2007, to Mohammad Wajid (father of Majid), informing him of his son's arrest mentions the date of arrest as 2-9-2007. The lawyers, in a meeting held on 4-10-2007 told the Committee that the telegram was a clear admission on the part of the police that Majid was in their custody for over twenty- five days. A copy of the telegram was given to the Committee. According to Majid's family, he was arrested on the 31-9-2007. The Siasat Daily, said that they had published the news of Majid's arrest on the 1st Sep, 2007; the news paper could not have anticipated Majid's arrest on 2-9-2007 as the telegram claims. Siasat told the Committee that Majid and Shakeel were kept in illegal police custody for more than twenty days and that during that time, the two had been kept in various farm houses, where they were severely beaten and tortured during interrogation.
The most asked questions were: Is Majid being punished for being Shahid Bilal's brother and Shakeel being a friend of Majid? Why after so many days in custody have they not come up with some concrete evidence? Why were Majid and Shakeel not produced in court earlier, was it because they had been tortured and that they may have had physical evidence of torture on their bodies?
4.2 Third degree methods were used during interrogations of detainees.
4.2.1 Based on the statements made to the Committee (even after giving allowances for
exaggerations), the Committee believes that detainees were subjected to physical and mental torture. The detainees at Charlapally prison recounted to the Committee the physical torture they had been subjected to, during police interrogation. They spoke of severe beatings, many of being subjected to electric shocks to all parts of the body, including the genitals, and other forms of torture.
To cite two examples:
(1) At Charlapally prison, Abdul Kareem, 24 years, told the Committee that he had been arrested on 30-8-2007 and produced before a Magistrate (at his house) on the 8-8-2007. He said that during interrogations he was beaten severely and that the police pulled his beard hard enough that lot of hair came out. He was given electric shocks even in his private parts and that a small electric shaving machine like devise was used, which they kept charging he said. His hands were tied behind his back and he was hung from his hands upside down. Kicked by boots on his face also. Four or five days of torture and ten days in custody. When he would drift into sleep he would be awakened by water being thrown on his face. The police threatened to make his mother and sister naked, which they said will make him tell the truth. They said things against his religion; asked him why they have so many children and wives. Told him that they were all fundamentalists.
(2) Ibrahim Ali Junaid, 25, final year medical student, BUMS (Unnani Medicine), in his statement to the Committee said that he was picked up on 3-9-2007 (produced before Magistrate on 8-9-2007) and taken to an undisclosed location, where he was interrogated.. At night they took off all his clothes, tied his feet together and with a belt beat him on the sole of his feet and other parts of his body. During interrogation they asked him about the Mecca Masjid and Gokul Chat bomb blasts.
Legs were stretched side ways and then beaten. Electric shocks were administered on his penis, ears, waist and ankles. Dr. Mahender Reddy, forensic expert, on examination, said that he did see some signs of injury and electric shocks on some detainees, which he said were not from self injury and could be the result of third degree procedures. Some of the Committee members also saw marks of injury on hands, feet, ears etc.
Several questions need urgent answers like; Why were the detainees denied their right or not given the option of having a lawyer present during interrogation? Were the detainees taken to undisclosed places for the purpose of subjecting them to physical torture and the resulting mental torture, for the purpose of eliciting information/ confessions out of them? Where are these undisclosed places-farm houses and lodges?
The committee believes (after making allowances for exaggerations in the statements of the detainees) that the due process of Law was not followed, that there was the use of third degree methods during interrogation, and that these are denials of the civil liberties and are flagrant violations of Human rights. The police is entitled to question the detainees but torture is outlawed. It violates the fundamental Right to life. Right to life has also come to mean the Right to life with dignity, and any treatment of a citizen, by the State which denies his dignity or endangers his life, mental stability is an absolute violation of the Right to live. Further, that physical and mental torture is a violation of the ICCPR, International Convention on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations, to which India is a signatory.
4.2.2 The Committee sees communal bias in the pattern of detentions /arrests made after the twin bomb blasts. There is sufficient evidence to believe that Muslim young men were picked up at random because they belonged to a particular religion. Immediately after the bomb blasts, statements were made by the Government and police at the highest levels, that the bomb blasts were perpetrated by Muslims.
Only Muslim names have made the rounds, not even a doubt of the possibility that individuals belonging to other communities may be involved in the bomb blasts. All suspects/ detainees/ and those arrested are from Muslim families. Sweeping arrests are being made only of individuals belonging to the Muslim community, often on flimsy grounds or for no other reason than that the person knew a suspect or that he lived on the same street as the suspect. (See page 7, sec: 5.6)
5. Recommendations of the Committee
The Fact Finding Committee strongly recommends that:
5.1 A thorough, detailed judicial enquiry be conducted into the alleged indiscriminate, illegal arrests/ detentions and into the common use of third degree methods during interrogations by the police and that action be taken against erring police officials. These are serious violations of Human rights and the Indian Constitution and cannot be permitted in a civilised society.
5.2 All illegal detenues must be released forth with.
5.3 Those released must be enabled / assisted to rejoin their professions, jobs or colleges.
5.4 Those released must be given medical attention and psychological counselling. These youngsters have been through horrific ordeals and will be vulnerable, fearful and incensed. It is of vital importance that all out attempts be made to make them feel secure and to give them confidence that they can rebuild their lives. Justice will not have been done if they are not helped to rehabilitate themselves financially and socially. There is also an added apprehension that otherwise they may fall prey to fundamental ideology or get led astray by anti- social elements.
5.5 Those who suffered illegal detention/ arrest and torture should be adequately compensated.
5.6 There is an urgent need to allay the sense of insecurity and fear that is growing in the
Muslim Community, especially, among the youth. The members of the Muslim Community believe that they have been singled out not only as the prime suspects but the only suspects in both the Mecca Masjid and the twin bomb blast cases, and feel that it is unjust and motivated. There is a palpable sense of alienation and helplessness. Parents / families told the Committee that they fear for the safety of their sons/ wards. They feel that the young men belonging to other than the Muslim community do not suffer the same treatment, even though they have similar backgrounds and live in the same locality. For example, many young men involved in petty crime were picked up, but only from the Muslim community. Why not others, they ask? They also feel bitter about the fact that
though there were more casualities/ victims among the Muslims in the bomb blasts, yet they are only regarded as perpetrators and not as sufferers. The apprehensions of the community must be addressed, or else could lead to estrangement and communal divide.
A definite message from the Chief Minister and high ranking police officials will go a long way in assuaging these fears and apprehensions. They must be reassured that their lawful interests will be protected, that their grievances will be addressed and that the Government is nonpartisan.
5.7 There is an urgent need for the police to be sensitised towards minorities (as with regard to women and dalits also). This is essential to overcome their own prejudices and to recognise it in others when confronted by it. The fear and distrust that the common man has towards the police can be changed if the police can be perceived to be unbiased, and themselves upholders of the rule of law. The police is responsible for the enforcement the law and criminal justice system and are accountable to the Law. Civil society must demand that the police be accountable for their actions and that they cannot be absolved of unlawful actions by claiming to follow the instructions of their political superiors.
5.8 The police should desist from making statements to the press about the guilt of a detained/arrested person, of being a criminal/ terrorist or that he is involved in or is planning subversive activities. A person is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty according to the Indian Constitution. Families/ social workers told the Committee that many individuals, who in spite of being innocent (many been released), are being looked upon with suspicion because news reports have accused them of indulging in terrorist activities.
5.9 Minority Commissions must be more proactive, interact more directly and have more personal contact with people. Individuals, especially, from the poorer sections of the Muslim community expressed great resentment towards leaders in general, irrespective of any group, political party or religious persuasion. They said they had no one to turn to and that their welfare was not of any one's concern. Creation of a grievance cell, where people had direct access to assistance, will go a long way in assuaging their feelings of helplessness and distrust.
5.10 Press, in general, must be more discerning, unbiased and objective in their reporting of sensitive matters relating to minorities. More editorial direction/ control is desirable on sensitive issues that have the potential for causing communal disharmony. For example,
constantly referring to crimes perpetuated by individuals belonging to Muslim families as 'Jihadis', 'Islami' or Muslim terrorists etc, leaving the impression that their deeds have religious sanction and some how that the Muslim community condones their actions, is totally false and unjust. In most meetings, people were incensed at these misrepresentations and said that they were motivated. They, said a terrorist has no religion (no matter what his claims may be), as the objectives of his means and that of his ends are to spread terror.
A judicious balance has to be maintained between reporting factual news and respecting the privacy of those effected, in other words between the right to freedom and the obligation to be accountable. Recent popular trends of investigative reporting are amounting to 'trail by media'. This should be stopped, in the interest of the right to privacy of the families. Few parents of the detainees told the Committee that they have been asked to move from their rented houses after some news paper reports, and that they were being ostracised by their community.
6. Concluding remarks
An urgent need to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, which has to be seen not only in the light of human rights violations, but also as it impacts detrimentally upon the psyche not only of the minorities, in this instance the Muslim community, but on that of the majority Community as well. Insensitive and callous handling of the investigations of the bomb blasts in Hyderabad has made stereotyping of Muslims, as being more prone to violence, easy. This is dangerous and can lead to polarization of communities and give credence to the prejudices and myths that are already being relentlessly spread by communal forces. There are apprehensions that the unique composite "Hyderabadi' culture, evolved over centuries of shared experiences and mutual influences, stands seriously threatened.
It is also a sad commentary on Indian democracy that across different sections/ classes of the Muslim community, it is increasingly being felt, that the Indian Muslim has to prove his loyalty and patriotism. This apprehension is voiced often, even at senior levels, which keeps many away from taking a public stand on controversial minority (read Muslim) issues. This is tragic of a community that has sacrificed and fought for the freedom of India in no less measure than the majority community! Communal harmony and national integration must become national priorities if century's old composite, secular culture of India is to survive.
The role of Civil Society is crucial in ensuring that the rule of law is upheld and maintained. Civil Society Social Service Organisations can contribute significantly in increasing awareness, among people, of their fundamental rights, of the fact that every Indian citizen is entitled to judicial review and that people have constitutional avenues to seek justice and redress their grievances.
State has the constitutional duty to safeguard, uphold and implement the Fundamental Rights of all citizens. Fundamental rights are legally enforceable laws and cannot be violated; it becomes even more dangerous if the State or its agencies violate them, as it goes against the very tenets of democracy. In the context of safeguarding rights of the minorities, the framers of our constitution ascertained (as noted by the Sapru committee, 1945), that Fundamental Rights not only provide, "assurances and guarantees" to the minorities but prescribe "a standard of conduct for the legislatures, the governments and the courts". Thus, a very serious view has to be taken if the State or any of its agencies are found subverting/ violating the law or indulging in partisan governance. Only a non-partisan, strong political will, which can exercise just and stringent measures to implement the rule of law can effectively tackle the threat of terrorism and other forms of increasing violence in our country.
Dated: 10th October, 2007.
Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, K. Anuradha, Mohammad Afzal
FACT FINDING COMMITTEE - CONTACT NOS: 9849608466 / 9396420718 / 9391155534