Muslims acquitted in terror case after 23 years in prison

Jaipur: The Rajasthan High Court has acquitted six Muslim men in the 1996 Samleti blast case after they spent twenty-three years in prison, news reports said.

Latif Ahmed Baja (42), Ali Bhatt (48), Mirza Nisar (39), Abdul Goni (57) and Rayees Beg (56), stepped out of the Jaipur Central Jail on Tuesday after the prosecution failed to provide evidence of their involvement in the 23-year-old case of bomb blast in a bus at Samleti in Dauisa district, Rajasthan in which 14 persons were killed.

They had been incarcerated for over two decades without bail or parole. During this time, they were lodged in jails in Delhi and Ahmedabad.

The division bench of justices Sabina and Goverdhan Bardhar, however, upheld the death penalty awarded to Dr Abdul Hamid, saying he was the key person behind the planting of the bomb in the bus going to Bikaner from Agra on May 22, 1996. The bench also upheld the life term awarded to Pappu alias Salim, holding him to be responsible for supplying the explosives.

Out of the six men, Rayees Beg is a resident of Agra, while the five others hail from Kashmir. According to them, they didn’t know each other until the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) made them an accused in the case. Before they were jailed, Bhatt had a carpet business, Baja used to sell Kashmiri handicraft in Delhi and Kathmandu, Nisar was a Class IX student and Ghani used to run a school, the report quoted The Indian Express.

“We have no idea about the world we are stepping into,” says Ghani. “We’ve lost relatives while we were inside. My mother, father and two uncles passed away. We have been acquitted, but who will bring back those years,” says Beg, adding that his sister has since got married and his niece is now about to get married too.

Accused of terrorism and jailed for 23 years, Ali Mohammad, a resident of Srinagar was not found guilty, along with four other. But he lost his youth, parents and almost 2-and-a-half decade of his life.

The case dates back to May 22, 1996, when a blast ripped through a Rajasthan State Roadways Corporation (RSRTC) bus, which was travelling from Agra to Bikaner, at 4 pm near Samleti, killing 14 passengers and injuring 39 others.

Although the charge sheet was filed in 1997 the trial in the case got dragged on for years. On September 29, 2014, the trial court Bandikui awarded capital punishment to one Abdul Hameed, a doctor by profession who hails from Firozabad in UP, and life imprisonment to seven others. The charge sheet had accused the men of being associates of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and of being involved in the Sawai Man Singh Stadium blast in Jaipur in 1996. “They were named in multiple cases without any basis. They have been acquitted in all the cases — but after 23 years,” the newspaper quoted their counsel, Shahid Hasan as saying.

“We are happy that finally they have been found innocent and released. But this is still an injustice. These innocent men lost 23 years of their lives in jail for no fault of theirs. Who will compensate that? Who will be held accountable for what they have gone through?” Mohammad Nazimuddin, the President of Jamaat-E-Islami Hind, Rajasthan said.

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