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BackYou are here: AnalysisOpinion ‘Only fringe elements wanted him hanged’

Opinion

‘Only fringe elements wanted him hanged’

Interview with S.A.R. Geelani.

In the Parliament House attack case, the trial court sentenced Professor S.A.R. Geelani to death, but the Supreme Court acquitted him. Geelani, who teaches Arabic at Delhi University, was the only person outside the jail whom Afzal Guru trusted and could meet frequently. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline.

To begin with, what is your reaction to the secret hanging of Afzal?

The secret hanging of Afzal was atrocious. It is a sad day for the people of Kashmir. It is inhuman that a person is being sent to the gallows without even giving him a chance to meet his family. His little son was not allowed to meet his father for one last time before his death.

On the night of February 8, I got a whiff of something that was going on inside the Tihar jail through alerts from some journalists. But it was not as if some untoward activity was taking place. It was not necessarily about Afzal. On February 9, early in the morning, around 5-30 or 6 a.m., I got a call from Srinagar that very strict curfew had been imposed. One of my friends said that he had asked the CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] personnel on duty when they were chasing people away, and they said: "Afzal gaya" [Afzal is gone]. That was the first confirmation I got. Then, I called Afzal's wife. When I asked her whether she had any information about it, she was shocked. I said I just wanted to confirm as there were rumours. I asked her whether she was informed about it. She said she was not. Then I asked her to talk to Afzal's brother and other family members. She got back to me saying none of them had been told about it.

When Ajmal Kasab was hanged secretly on November 21 last year, many had a hunch that a similar fate awaited Afzal. Why was it not possible for close friends of Afzal like you to try and seek the intervention of the court to pre-empt it?

I discussed this with Afzal. There were other lawyers who were thinking of approaching the courts. Afzal thought that this would not happen to him because death-row prisoners like [Devender Pal Singh] Bhullar and the convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case had challenged the rejection of their mercy petitions on the grounds of delay, and their petitions were pending in the Supreme Court. I asked him whether they could file a petition in the Supreme Court in this regard. He was thinking over it. But he was utterly disappointed with the kind of treatment he was getting from the courts. He thought it was of no use, and he did not want to be disrespected in the courts.

The trial court pronounced us guilty [in its oral observations] even six months before the charge sheets were filed in the case. The very first day we were in the Special Court, the judge called us guilty. The judge told one of the accused, who was crying that day, that she should have thought about all this before conspiring to attack Parliament. He said this when he was not even aware of the charges that might be mentioned in the charge sheet. Neeraj Bansal continued as Afzal's lawyer even after Afzal expressed no confidence in him, and Bansal himself did not want to represent him in the trial court.

If Afzal had no confidence in the judiciary, how did he agree to consider your proposal to approach the Supreme Court to pre-empt a Kasab-like hanging?

I talked to him about this in January. To file a petition, we needed his signature. We could have got his wife's signature, but I did not want to do anything without his consent. I talked to Ram Jethmalani [the eminent lawyer] about it. He agreed to represent him. After that, I approached Afzal. I had given him a vakalatnama also when I met him first in January first week. After that I met him again on January 11. That was my last meeting.

That day he was very upset with an article about him he had read in a Kashmiri weekly. He thought it was a distortion. I haven't read it. I did not ask him about the contents because I did not want to hurt him.

Was he confused?

No, he was not confused. He did not think that the government would act in a cruel manner and hang him without even informing his family. He might have thought that they would inform his family at least two or three days before his hanging so that they would have the time to come to Delhi to meet him. He thought that they would not hang him secretly. I had explained to him, and given the vakalatnama, because I anticipated it during the meeting which took place prior to January 11. During the last few meetings, I was trying to concentrate on the petition [to seek the intervention of the court to stop secret hanging]. I had almost convinced him about it.

On January 11, I had gone with the hope that he might have got the vakalatnama and other things. But that day he was so upset he did not come with the vakalatnama. He was unhappy that human rights activists in India had such a view about him [as mentioned in that article in the Kashmiri weekly]. So I told him to think about it [the petition].

But there was a petition pending in the Supreme Court regarding his plea for transfer to the Central jail in Srinagar. First, he wrote to the Delhi government requesting transfer. The Delhi government then replied that the J&K government had not given its consent. When Kasab's hanging took place, [J&K Chief Minister] Omar Abdullah had tweeted that other matters could be similarly dealt with secretly. He was referring to Afzal. He was suggesting it. Now he says he was not aware of it. If Afzal had given the consent [to file a petition] we could have delayed his hanging at least till the Supreme Court gave its verdict in the delay matter. We could have easily done that.

Afzal was so truthful about the evidence. When his lawyer suggested during the trial that Afzal did not go with Mohammad [the terrorist who was killed in the Parliament House attack] to buy the car [used in the attack], he intervened and said he went. He said he didn't know why he was purchasing the car. He said he was introduced to him as a citizen of Kashmir from Doda and that he was told to take him to Delhi [by a Special Task Force official]. He could have easily denied it. Though the procedure was followed, the whole process was flawed completely. The facts were brought to the knowledge of the courts, but they never looked into them. The Supreme Court said very clearly that it is not law which requires him to hang, but it is the sentiments, the collective conscience of the nation.

I haven't seen people of the country going after his blood. It is only the fringe elements which wanted him hanged. I am amazed that the people running this huge country have such a narrow vision and cannot think beyond the 2014 elections.

V. VENKATESAN, Frontline (from the publishers of THE HINDU), February 23-March 8, 2013