By M Reyaz, TwoCircles.net,
New Delhi: Advocate Mehmood Pracha, who is defending German bakery bomb blast case convict Mirza Himayat Beg for his innocence, has been receiving threat calls from international telephone numbers. Although he was not a full time criminal lawyer Advocate Pracha attracted admiration in successfully securing bail for Syed Muhammad Ahmad Kazmi in the Israeli Embassy attack case and since then he has become one of the sort after lawyers not only individuals family members of youth arrested on dubious terror charges, but also by organisations like Jamiat e Ulema Hind. Many see him as heir to legacy of Advocate Shahid Azmi, who was martyred for defending the innocent youth arrested on terror charges. Besides Himayat Baig, Advocate Pracha has been trying to secure bail for another high profile terror accused Mansoor Peerbhoy and has been frontally attacking current Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria for his conduct as ATS Chief.
M Reyaz caught up with Advocate Pracha at his office in New Delhi and spoke with him in details on the cases he has been handling, his accusations on Rakesh Maria and the threats he has been getting.
Advocate Pracha accepted that he is “quite ashamed” for not taking terror cases all these years as he had a “preconceived notion of the atmosphere created…a false atmosphere” of which he too was a victim. He did not shy away from calling those police officers involved in falsely implicating innocent Muslim youth as “criminal police officers” by whom “real terrorists have been shielded, saved”. He alleged that the “police officers are acting like terrorists because they are aiding and abetting the real terrorists and catching hold of the innocent people to save the real terrorists.”
He accused Rakesh Maria for using underworld to threaten him, adding that he has “substantive evidence” against not only him, but several police officers involved in terror cases. .” Advocate Pracha said that as a citizen of the country he is duty-bound in helping bringing out the truth behind all these terror cases and said threats won’t dissuade him.
Excerpts from the Interview:
TCN: You had no experience in UAPA cases and you took up the challenge of bailing out Muhammad Ahmad Kazmi (Israeli Embassy attack case) from the country’s one of the biggest Unlawful Activities Prevention Act case and you succeeded in securing bail from the Supreme Court. What was it that provoked you to appear for Muhammad Kazmi although you had no experience in UAPA?
Mehmood Pracha: I started off as a criminal lawyer but then I shifted to other areas of practice, therefore you can safely say that I had no experience of handling terror cases. I am quite ashamed of myself that I did not take up these cases; like everybody else, I also had a preconceived notion of the atmosphere created or which is being created by almost everybody in the country, a false atmosphere of which I was also a victim. I saw these terror cases without going into depth of these cases as something which lawyer should not actually pick up.
I got to know of Syed Muhammad Ahmad Kazmi when I was handling the case of Karbala (Dispute over Waqf land in Jor Bagh). He was one of the leaders of the agitation. Because I knew him personally, I was absolutely sure that this man would not do such an act, so that was the turning point. His own defence lawyer, who is a very reputed lawyer, told him that his case is very difficult and he can talk to the police to turn him into an approver. Mr Kazmi and his family members were not ready for this. They approached me, I told them that I have not taken any criminal cases in long time; but they had seen me handing other cases and probably they were confident that I would do some justice in this case.
TCN: But was only personal relations the impetus?
MP: I took that case on one condition which Mr Kazmi and his family agreed to; I told them that I will not fight for their acquittal but to bring out the truth. Mr Kazmi and his family were quite forthcoming. As a defence counsel this is not a done thing that is why I am giving you this anecdote. I took this safety but I am ashamed of asking this, because of what I am finding now. In fact Mr Kazmi also said that don’t fight for me fight to bring out the truth and I am confident I will be proven innocent. So that was the turning point.
After this case, there is this tacit understanding between me and all my clients in such cases (that I will not fight to defend an individual but to bring out the truth).
What I saw in Mr Kazmi case and every other cases which I took up is horrifying, not only that these people are innocent, but they have been falsely implicated. These are evidences which have come on record by way of the evidence collected by the police or various investigating agencies themselves. They themselves betray not only the innocence of the accused but also betray the fact that real culprits, real terrorists have been shielded, saved by the investigating agencies, which is horrifying and very sad.
The necessary corollary of taking up these cases is the fact that if you involve innocent people in these matters and satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ of the society then you are letting go off the real terrorist who will now be bolder, knowing that they are not being caught and renewed vigour. This is counter-productive, so if somebody wants to fight the war against terror real people should be caught.
And these police officers, also people who are behind them, political as well as bureaucratic people, they are also part and parcel of this larger conspiracy of supporting the real terrorists to weaken India. That is why I say that every law abiding citizen and every Constitution loving lawyers should take these cases up and go to the root of it.
Advocate Mehmood Pracha at his Defence Colony office.
2. Can we say that the SC order in case of Muhammad Ahmad Kazmi boosted you to help innocent Muslims behind bars who became prey to police abuses?
MP: To call it a boost for myself would not be correct (smiles). It would be wastage of time to list out all the cases as at the moment I am handling about 60% of such terror related cases. As of now I am handling more than 50 cases. To name a few important cases would be German Bakery Blast case in which Himayat Baig got convicted and I am handling his appeal. He got five death sentences and six lives (life in imprisonment) and he is innocent as is now coming out from various investigating agencies.
Then I am also handling the Malegaon case, Delhi High Court 2011 blast case, Jangali Maharaj road blast case of Pune (2012). Then the basic conspiracy theory of Indian Mujahideen, all those cases, Chinnawamy stadium blast case (Bangalore, 2010).
TCN: So who approaches you for these cases? Is it the Jamiat Ulema, Jamaat or family members of these youth who are incarnated?
MP: I have said this many times in press that any organisation or individual who thinks or feels that his relative or friend or whoever is innocent and he wants to find the truth in these matters (can approach me). So I offer my services to anyone and this is not confined just to Muslims, but even tribals.
But my basic condition is that he should be innocent and he has love for our country. If these two conditions are satisfied then I take up these cases without charging any fees. So anybody can approach me. This is the service I am doing not only for the Muslims or weaker section of the society like tribals, but this is the service I am doing for my country.
TCN: You mentioned about Himayat Baig, you are defending him in Pune German Bakery Blast case before Bombay HC. You said that the condition you set is that the person should be innocent, but he was convicted on many counts. So what promoted you to take up this case? And who approached you for this case?
MP: For this case Maharashtra state President of Jamiat Ulema Hind (Maulana Mahmood Madani), Hafiz Nadeem Siddiqui approached me. I must take his name for he is very brave and righteous Muslim leader.
Getting convicted in trial court is just one aspect, you must remember that there is a system, and you can appeal. After putting my condition, I also do checking on my own, I study the charge sheet or the case-related documents…
TCN: After going through the charge-sheet and related documents are you convinced that he is innocent and falsely accused?
MP: Yes, I am fully convinced. Whatever little experience I have and my understanding has also been strengthened by the fact that Himayat Baig case was also investigated by the NIA, and they have given a finding that he was not involved. Besides two other agencies, Delhi Police’ Special Cell and CCB (Central Crime Branch) Bangalore too have said that Himayat Baig was not involved, some other persons were involved.
The fact remains that three investigating agencies, my own understanding of the case, the charge sheet and the subsequent events, all point to one fact that the Maharashtra ATS led by Mr Rakesh Maria was responsible in not only falsely implicating Himayat Baig, but also in the process actively saving the real terrorists and for that I say that the police officers involved, including Mr Rakesh Maria should be arrested for conducting activities which are terror related. He has committed offense prima facie which are terror cases and he should be arrested as a terrorist.
Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria [Courtesy: mid-day.com]
TCN: You mentioned Rakesh Maria’s name, then ATS Chief, has now become the Mumbai Police Commissioner. You have said that you will file a petition to lodge FIR against him for implicating Himayat Baig in German Bakery blast case. On what ground will you file petition before the court? And what is the status?
MP: As I said my prime goal in these matters, apart from getting innocents freed, is also to find out the real terrorists, and have them arrested and face the consequences as per law. In Himayat Baig’s case what has come out is that the Maharashtra ATS, led by Mr Rakesh Maria – who was then the Chief of the ATS – they not only implicated an innocent called Mr Himayat Baig, but they also saved the real terrorists, as three other agencies have also stated.
So as a citizen, I have a duty to inform for a cognizable offence to the relevant authority and the court. This is what I am going to do. If I don’t do it, I fail in my duty as a citizen, which is again an offense. It is my duty to inform the terrorist activities of Mr Rakesh Maria, then head of the Maharashtra ATS, and his entire team.
This is true not only for Mr Rakesh Maria, but for many other officers against whom I have conclusive evidence to at least register an FIR against them. Law should take its own course, because nobody is above law. Mr Rakesh Maria’s case came up because the NIA filed the additional charge-sheet which once again points to the fact that Himayat Baig was innocent.
But he (Rakesh Maria) has taken it in a manner, which I think, is not suitable for a police officer, if at all he is, because I do not find any of the characters of a police officer in him, going through the evidences I am seeing in all the charge-sheets, which have been filed under his leadership. So he has started threatening me through the underworld. But these things don’t scare me at all.
I will show one more thing to people who think (they can get away), people who are in high places; I know there are other people also who are behind Mr Rakesh Maria.
TCN: You are clearly accusing Mr Rakesh Maria of the threats you have been getting from some international number?
MP: Yes, I have substantive and enough evidence against Mr Rakesh Maria. He is the one, unfortunate part is that he is using the underworld. He is the one who is supposed to catch the underworld, but he is using the underworld to threaten a person like me, whose only fault is that he is following the law. What I am doing is presenting my case to the judges, whatever reliefs or whatever orders are being passed, are passed by the judges. So it is a direct attack on the Judiciary.
But I want to show these people that the Constitution of India and the laws made under them are sufficient not only to tackle underworld dons, international or national, but our Constitution and laws are also sufficient to catch hold of these terrorists who are sitting today in the garb of police officers.
TCN: I will come to the threat part later, but you got another feather in your crown when the session’s court revoked MCOCA in JM road Pune 2012 blast case. Could you please elaborate as to how you were able to convince the session court in revoking MCOCA from the terror case?
MP: I am not very comfortable to call these things as feathers in my cap because these are very unfortunate things. In the criminal jurisprudence, there are certain basic concepts, if you falter on these as a country, as a society, then the results are going to devastating. One of the basic concept of a free and fair trial involves neutral police investigation and then neutral prosecution by the state lawyers, public prosecutors.
Unfortunate part is both the police officers who are supposed to be neutral investigating agencies and the public prosecutors, supported by the respective governments, have acted in an adversarial and vindictive manner in these cases. And again, I will repeat, I am not saying this from my heart, I am saying this with all the evidences, scientific and substantive evidence in my possession.
In another case, Zameeruddin’s when the vires (power/jurisdiction) of the MOCACA was challenged in the Supreme Court, Maharashtra government took a stand in a very sly manner that MOCACA and UAPA function in different domains and there MOCACA does not ultra-vires the Constitution as well as the UAPA, the petitioner lost that case in the SC, and MOCACA vires were upheld by the Supreme Court on the statement that they are functioning under different domains.
Now there is precondition for invoking MOCACA, it is crime-syndicate, people who are indulging themselves in the crimes for money or financial gains. Therefore, if you invoke the provisions of the UAPA, that is terror laws, charge sheets of terror laws to invoke MOCACA then you are acting in a vindictive manner because you yourself, your state government has said in the Supreme Court that these two function in different domains. So if you invoking something which is in different domains for invoking MOCACA that is ultra vires. So either you have to concede that MOCACA is ultra vires and that you take a false stand before, or you have to release MCOACA provisions. This was our argument is the court. And the court decided in our favour.
TCN: This was your argument in the court, but would be the larger implications of the judgment in this particular case on other cases?
MP: Every single case of UAPA, where charge sheets of UAPA are used to invoke MOCACA, will not be applicable now, and they will be set aside. UAPA itself is a stringent and draconian law, so basically you filing two cases, two stringent cases, this shows your vindictiveness.
And this goes against the will of the Parliament for the Parliament had the knowledge of the MOCACA also, yet they chose not to use certain provisions of bail of MOCACA, stringent provisions of confessions before the police officers in UAPA. But you want to defeat the intent of the Parliament.
TCN: Advocate Shahid Azmi also used the similar argument (to revoke MCOCA from Mumbai Terror blast and Aurangabad Arms Haul case before the SC), but he could not succeed in that but you are confident that you can continue his legacy and do you want to continue his legacy or do you want to chart a separate path for yourself?
MP: (Smiles) I don’t know what his legacy was, he was just fighting for the truth and he got many people acquitted. I am also fighting for the truth…
TCN: But in relation to the kind of cases, do you see yourself as someone who can continue his legacy?
MP: I can only say that I approach these cases in a different manner because I try to go to the roots of these cases. I don’t know why he did not succeed, but we actually used the arguments of a lost case (of Shahid Azmi) in the Supreme Court to our benefit…
TCN: You have already started getting threats, he (Shahid Azmi) lost his life fighting for the innocents, are you not scared that you may have similar fate?
MP: Well I am grateful to Allah Almighty that he has not given me something called fear from my childhood days. So something I don’t know, (smiles) I cannot use it.
But I can say with all conviction, and all the knowledge in my command of the law, Constitution, and the system we are living in – this is the message I am giving to the people who want to kill me – that one, I am not Shahid Azmi, I know how to use the strength of our Constitution to get all the people, including those underworld dons behind bars, using the power of the law.
TCN: Have you filed cases?
MP: I have not filed cases yet, but I am in the process of showing them the majesty of law is far above all these criminal police officers, be them in higher places, or highest places. I will catch hold of every single terrorist involved in such activities, through law, be it the police officers or their political bosses, or their bureaucratic bosses.
TCN: Last question, you are also fighting Mansoor Peerbhoy case and trying to secure bail for him. Could you elaborate on the technical aspect of that case in particular?
MP: Mansoor Peerbhoy case is another classic case where there is not even an iota (of evidence) of the most crucial aspect of the entire case of Mansoor Peerbhoy, or anyone of the accused who have been arrested in that case, of sending any e-mail. The scientific data which has been supplied, which have been adduced in the charge-sheet of the CFSL report clearly illustrates that Mansoor Peerbhoy was not the person who sent these e-mails, yet he has been arrested. The CFSL also points out who has actually sent these e-mails. But those people have not been investigated.
This is what I mean, when I say, that these police officers are acting like terrorists because they are aiding and abetting the real terrorists and catching hold of the innocent people to save the real terrorists. Under section 15 to 20 of the UAPA, these are terrorist activities, be it whether they are committed by the police officers or common citizens because law is equal for all.
TCN: If you are convinced that Mansoor Peerbhoy is innocent that makes you ask one last question is that he has been shown to be the media in-charge of the Indian Mujahideen. If he is innocent, that brings to the scrutiny all the cases across the country by several investigating agencies on IM? What is you impression of all these IM cases?
MP: Mr Rakesh Maria has managed to bring himself to the limelight by bringing Ravi Pujari (the underworld don, whose men purportedly threatened Pracha over phone) that is why I have to take his name again and again, but there are so many other police officers who are going the same way. But none of them has actually threatened (me) with the underworld. He has got this invited on himself. If you threaten me like this I am going to fight back, by legal means.
The fact remains that there many police officers in many states, who are acting along with the real terrorists and implicating these innocent in false cases. And we are duty bound as citizens to catch hold of each one of them and hand them over to the investigating agencies.
One more thing I would want to add here is that one of the basic fault in our investigating agencies is that honest police officers are being side-lined, they are posted in police training schools, on posts of not much significance as punishment postings and officers with known corrupt background are placed in important posts, like handling terror cases, which is very sad.
The civil society should take up that only people with impeccable integrity should be heading or be used in matters of such national importance.
I am again repeating, whatever I am saying, I am saying about these police officers who are heading terror departments or terror wings of investigations in various police departments by way of various judicial findings that have been given against them. These are not my words, they have been indicted in false encounters, they have been indicted by the courts in planting RDX, planting weapons on innocent people. So therefore these people have to be taken to task, they should be arrested as soon as possible and put behind bars.