India judge frees mosque blast accused and resigns
7 people were killed, 58 hurt in 2007 Hyderabad’s Makkah Masjid attack
In a dramatic development, the judge of the special National Investigation Agency court in the south Indian city of Hyderabad has resigned hours after delivering his verdict in the deadly Makkah Masjid blast case.
In a move which has sparked intense speculation in legal quarters, Ravinder Reddy sent his resignation letter to the Chief Justice of Hyderabad High Court. His move surprised legal and political circles as it came a few hours after he acquitted Swami Aseemanand and four others in the sensational case for lack of evidence.
The accused in the blast case allegedly belonged to the right wing Hindu outfits. “If there were other reasons, I don’t know why he chose this day to do it,” said a senior high court lawyer who wanted to be anonymous.
Hyderabad Member of Parliament Asaduddin Owaisi expressed his surprise. “Very intriguing and I am surprised with the Lordship’s decision,” he tweeted. Nine people were killed and 58 injured when a blast ripped through the historic mosque during Friday prayers on May 18, 2007.
Aspecial NIA court in Hyderabad yesterday acquitted five accused in the Makkah Masjid bomb blast case, almost 11 years after an improvised explosive device ripped through a Friday congregation.
The attack on the Hyderabad mosque killed nine people and injured 58 others. The accused who were acquitted by the court include Naba Kumar Sircar, alias Swami Aseemanand, a former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS) in Gujarat turned patron of a new right wing group, Abhinav Bharat, and other members of hardline Hindu groups.
‘Failed to prove guilt’
Delivering the judgement in a packed courtroom, the judge said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had failed in proving the guilt of the accused.
“The judge observed that not a single allegation levelled by the prosecution could be proved and hence he declared all the accused acquitted,” said J.P. Sharma, the defence counsel.
A bomb had exploded in the crowded courtyard of the mosque on May 18, 2007 just as the Friday congregation was coming to an end.
Five more people later died when police opened fire on a group of Muslims protesting against the blast.
Two other accused former — RSS preacher Sandeep V. Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra from Madhya Pradesh — remain listed as absconders and are yet to be arrested.
Another two accused Tejram Parmar and Amith Chowhan are still under investigation.
The other accused acquitted yesterday were RSS leader Devender Gupta (Rajasthan), RSS activist Lokesh Sharma (Madhya Pradesh), Bharat Mohanlal, Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai (Gujarat) and Rajendra Chowdhary (Madhya Pradesh).
Over the last 11 years the case saw many twists and turns starting with the initial investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Hyderabad city police which, suspecting the involvement of Islamist groups, arrested 100 local youths.
Of these 26 were charged with conspiracy but a local court threw it out.
Subsequently the state government handed over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which arrested Devender Gupta and Lokesh Sharma on June 17, 2010 for alleged involvement in the blast.
In view of the interstate nature of the crime, the case was handed over to the National Investigation Agency on April 4, 2011.
After investigations and some more arrests the NIA filed the charge sheet against ten accused before the special court on February 13, 2014. During the trial 226 witnesses were examined in the court and 411 documents were produced.
While the National Investigation Agency officials said that they will decide further course of action after getting the copy of the judgement and examining it.
Relatives of victims of the blast reacted to the acquittal with shock and disbelief.
“If these accused were innocent, then who killed those people”, asked Mohammad Shakeen, a kin of one of the victims of the blast.
Summing up the feelings, Hyderabad MP and MIM President Asaduddin Owaisi that the acquittal has weakened the fight against terrorism.
“Justice has not been done”, he said, “This was a completely biased investigation”.
Police officials outside the historic Makkah Masjid in the old city of Hyderabad, Telangana, yesterday. An attack on the mosque in 2007 killed nine people and injured 58 others.
Swami Aseemanand (right) was one of five people acquitted by the special NIA court in Hyderabad.