A special anti-terror court today acquitted Hindutva preacher Swami Aseemanand and four others in the 11-year-old Mecca Masjid blast case and shortly afterwards the judge resigned, in a stunning move dubbed as “intriguing” by a political party. K Ravinder Reddy, the special judge for NIA cases, tendered his resignation, citing “personal” reasons barely hours after pronouncing the judgement in which he held that the prosecution failed to prove “even a single allegation” against the five accused. Reddy said his resignation had nothing to do with today’s judgement, according to a senior judicial officer, who did not want to be named.
AIMIM Chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, meanwhile, tweeted, “Judge who gave acquittal to all accused in Mecca Masjid Blast RESIGNS very intriguing and I am surprised with the Lordship decision”, amid questions over the functioning of the National Investigation Agency(NIA). A powerful blast, triggered by remote control, had ripped through the over four centuries-old mosque here during an assembly of devotees on May 18, 2007 when they had gathered for Friday prayers, killing nine people and wounding 58. “Prosecution (NIA) could not prove even a single allegation against any of the accused and all of them stand acquitted,” J P Sharma, the counsel for 66-year-old Assemanand, told reporters after the verdict was pronounced by judge Reddy.
The media was not allowed in the courtroom where the judgement was pronounced in the high-profile case, which was dubbed by the then UPA government as one of “Hindu terror”, a term that riled saffron organisations, including the BJP. “He has sent the resignation letter to MSJ(Metropolitan Sessions Judge)…he has cited personal grounds and it has nothing to do with today’s verdict in the Mecca Masjid blast case,” the senior judicial officer told PTI, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Reddy, had apparently taken the decision to resign sometimes back itself, the officer said. Soon after the verdict, the NIA had come in for attack by oppostion parties, including the Congress and AIMIM. Apart from Aseemanand, those acquitted are — Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary.
Though there were 10 accused in the case, only these five were tried. Two other accused — Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra — are absconding, while Sunil Joshi was murdered. Investigation is continuing against two others.
The bomb had exploded in an area of the mosque where devotees performed ablutions. Two more Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were later found and defused by the police. The incident had triggered violent protests and riots, prompting police action in which five more people were killed.
A family member of one of the victims said the verdict should be challenged while the NIA said it will chalk out its future course of action after getting a copy of the judgement. The acquittals prompted the Congress to question the functioning of the NIA under the Modi government, but the BJP asserted that the court’s decision had exposed the opposition party’s politics of “defaming” Hindus for votes. BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged in New Delhi that the Congress has long “defamed” Hindus for votes and demanded that party president Rahul Gandhi and his predecessor Sonia Gandhi apologise for using terms like “saffron terror” and “Hindu terror”.
But the Congress said there is nothing called ‘saffron terror’, asserting that it was of firm belief that terror cannot be linked to any religion or community, and made it clear its leader Rahul Gandhi or the party never used the phrase. “Rahul Gandhi or the Congress party has never used the words ‘saffron terror’,” Congress spokesperson P L Punia told reporters in Delhi when asked about the BJP’s allegations. “It is mere rubbish. There is nothing called saffron terror,” he said, adding terrorism is a criminal mentality and it cannot be linked to any religion or community. Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “It (acquittal) is happening in each case since the government was formed four years ago…people are losing faith in the agencies.”
Owaisi, in an earlier tweet, claimed that the NIA did not properly pursue the case, leading to the acquittal of the accused.
According to Aseemanand’s counsel Sharma, the court after examining documents and material placed on record found that the charges did not stick. “This entire case was based on confessional statement of Swami Aseemanand. Right from beginning we had been placing before the court that this is not the statement of confession. “The defence argued that the so-called confessional statement was forced from Swami Aseemanand in order to create a theory of ‘Bhagwa Atankwad’ (safron terror),” he said.
The court, Sharma said, held that the confessional statement of Aseemanand was not voluntary. “CBI had got the statement of Swami Aseemanand recorded in Delhi while he was in police custody during December 2010,” he said.
Sharma claimed the investigating officer of the CBI had “intentionally” implicated the accused to sully the image of ‘Sant Samaj’ (the fraternity of seers) and the RSS, to which those acquitted belonged at some point of time.
Verdict in Mecca Masjid blast case ‘slap on UPA’s face’: VHP
Welcoming the special anti-terror NIA court verdict acquitting all five accused in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, the VHP termed it as a “slap on the face” of the previous “anti-Hindu” UPA government. In his first statement after assuming the charge of the VHP’s working international president, Alok Kumar said, “For the sake of minority appeasement, the Congress government had hatched a conspiracy to save real culprits in the name of Hindu terrorism.”
He further said Pakistan was the happiest country at that time when the innocent Hindus were implicated while real culprits moved freely. The Hindus were reduced to the status of ‘second-class citizens’ during the Congress government, Kumar said. A special anti-terror court today acquitted the five right-wing activists including Swami Aseemanand in the 2007 blast case, ruling that the prosecution failed to prove charges against them.
A massive blast had ripped through the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on May 18, 2007, during Friday prayers, killing nine people and wounding 58. The case was initially probed by the local police before being transferred to the CBI, and finally to the country’s premier anti-terror investigation agency NIA in 2011.
“We have not got justice,” says relatives
Some victims and relatives of those killed in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast said they have not got justice and urged the state government to move the High Court against a special NIA court verdict acquitting five accused in the case.
Reacting to the acquittal, Fayaz Khan, who lost his uncle and brother-in-law in the blast, said he was “upset” over the judgement. “We have not got justice…it is the responsibility of the government to move the High Court against today’s judgment and see to it that all of them are punished accordingly,” he said.
Syed Salman, who was among the injured, said “even after 11 years since the blast, we have not got justice.” He said investigating agencies should “seriously” take up the matter. Mohd Omar, a relative of another blast victim, too echoed similar views.
A powerful blast, triggered by remote control, had ripped through the over four centuries-old mosque here during an assembly of devotees on May 18, 2007 when they had gathered for Friday prayers, killing nine people and wounding 58.
A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court here today acquitted five persons including right-wing activist Swami Aseemanand in the case, ruling that the prosecution failed to prove charges against them.