Nearly five years after RTI activist Shehla Masood was shot dead in Bhopal, a CBI court on Saturday convicted interior designer Zahida Pervez and three other accused for the murder, and sentenced them to life imprisonment.
It took the Central Bureau of Investigation 137 court hearings, 83 witnesses and a 4,400-page chargesheet to bring the accused to book.
Judge BK Paloda, presiding over the Special CBI Court, pronounced Zahida, the prime accused, and three others—her friend Saba Farooqui, Saqib Ali alias ‘Danger’ and Tabish—guilty in the high-profile case. The fifth accused, Irfan, was given clemency for turning approver in the case.
Masood was found dead inside her car just outside her residence in Koh-e-Fiza area in Bhopal on August 16, 2011 when she was on her way to attend the demonstration called to support Anna Hazare’s ‘India Against Corruption’ campaign. Initially, the police had termed it as suicide, but after furore, the case was handed over to CBI on August 19.
The case had hit the national headlines after a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator, a RSS functionary and other high-profile persons were questioned in connection with the murder. There were speculations that Shehla, who had filed several RTI queries in some alleged corruption cases, might have been killed due to her activism.
After the verdict, Zahida claimed the CBI had forged facts and evidences against her. “We got this extreme verdict without any concrete evidence and witnesses, it’s nothing but CBI pressure which rules the roost in MP,” she told reporters.
According to the CBI, Zahida shared a close camaraderie with former BJP MLA Dhruvnarayan Singh and was jealous of Masood’s growing ties with him. Zahida approached Saqib Ali, who had criminal record, to eliminate Shehla. Ali, in turn, had hired shooters Tabish and Irfan, to kill the 38-year-old RTI activist. The CBI had arrested Zahida on February 28, 2012.