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For nearly 10 years, Indore (Madhya Pradesh) resident Mohammed Imran Ansari has battled case after case to prove that he is not a terrorist. Among the cases are bizarre charges accusing him of travelling to other states to hatch terror attacks when, in fact, he was already in jail.
Imran is one of the nearly 200 Muslim youths charged and jailed in over 85 cases in the last 12 years in the state, showcasing a system of persecution on flimsy charges.
These cases have now been detailed by the Delhi-based Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) in a report sourced from police FIRs and court affidavits and documents.
While most of these cases were registered during the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government, many of them began when Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh was the chief minister.
Arrested in September 2001, Imran was in a jail in when a fresh case slapped on him alleged he participated in a conspiracy that was hatched in Surat, Gujarat. How could a man in jail travel to another state while still in judicial custody has never been explained. Imran faced a similar situation in November 2006, when another case was registered against him for hatching a conspiracy while he was still in police custody.
"If the allegations are true, why are they not prosecuting the policemen accompanying me?" he asks.
In none of these cases the accused have been charged with committing any violent crime. In fact, MP has witnessed violence in only one terror-related case when three people, including a police constable, were killed in a shootout in Teen Pulia, Khandwa, on November 28, 2009.
The study found scores of people thrown into jail were accused of either possessing "incriminating literature," or shouting slogans and pasting posters in favour of the banned Student's Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
Even newspaper clippings from Dainik Jagran and Nai Duniya or Urdu magazines like Tehreek were attached with case files as "incriminating evidence." Besides newspaper clippings, the police frequently cited posters with verses of the Quran as "evidence" to prosecute these young men.
The study also found many FIRs to be suspiciously identical. They cite FIR No 537/00 and FIR No 663/00, registered on October 22, 2000, as a case in point. Both cases accuse the same six people of committing the same crime on the same day and at the same time, but in different parts of the city. Surprisingly, the trial courts repeatedly overlooked such glaring discrepancies.
Even FIRS of cases filed several years apart were found to be similar. For instance, FIR 101/08 of 2008 and FIR 251/01 of 2001 are virtually the same. In both cases the accused was at Sarvate bus stand in Indore, shouting slogans in favour of SIMI before being arrested. As expected, in both cases the police could not produce any independent witness.
At times, the handling of these cases took bizarre and unfortunate turns for many. After arresting 13 people on flimsy grounds on March 27, 2008, the senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Dhar district had sent a letter to various other districts, asking them to register similar cases. In a record of sorts, 18 identical cases were immediately registered across the state and young men thrown into jail. Most of the cases registered made explicit reference to the SSP's letter and some even relied solely on it to prosecute the accused.
Director general of police (DGP) Nandan Dube contested these findings and said that all such cases were put up for trial in courts but the courts have not passed any stricture against the state police. Dube said there have been no excesses in these cases in Madhya Pradesh. But as Manisha Sethi, one of the authors of the report points out, the police were pulled up on several occasions by the Madhya Pradesh High Court and many of the accused acquitted after spending years in jail.