Home Indian Muslim No ‘direct’ evidence in Coimbatore blasts: judge

No ‘direct’ evidence in Coimbatore blasts: judge

Chennai, Oct 30 (IANS) The judge who awarded life sentences to 43 people for the 1998 Coimbatore serial bomb blasts that killed 58 people and injured hundreds said the government could not provide “direct evidence” in the case and it was “not good enough” to give them the death sentence.

Special Judge K. Uthirapathi, who imposed life imprisonment on banned Al Umma’s leaders S.A. Basha and Mohammed Ansari and 41 others last week, said imposition of capital punishment in this case was “unlikely to have a deterrent effect on other fundamentalist elements indulging in such a heinous act in future at any other place in our country”.

The judge said in his 1,704-page judgement that charges against the convicts -like criminal conspiracy, murder and creating disharmony among different communities – had been “proved beyond reasonable doubt”.

However, “several factors outweighed the legal factors for giving death sentences” in the case, he has said, explaining why he did not award any death sentence in the case. The copy of the judgement was made available to the media Tuesday.

The blasts in February 1998, before an election, had killed 58 people in the textile town, 600 km south of Chennai, and targeted Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani.

In his verdict, the judge said: “The failure of the state machinery” in dealing with the communal clashes that preceded the blasts, leading to a “loss of faith in the state” on the part of the Muslim community, and the “presence of only circumstantial, rather than direct evidence”, doubts as to whether the convicts had access to the best legal assistance, were among the many factors that led him not to award death sentence in the Coimbatore blast case.

The judge said that the prosecution’s case that there was a conspiracy to commit retaliatory killings to avenge the deaths of 18 Muslims in communal violence in November-December 1997, and that the conspirators had also plotted to assassinate L.K. Advani, “stood proved”.

“However, substantial evidential links were not on firm ground, nor was there any direct evidence against Al Umma leader Basha, except for proof that there were conspiracy meetings”, the court said.

The prosecution had argued that there was a ‘suicide squad of six’ to target Advani, but “the exact nature, class or nomenclature of the bombs had not been established”.

Defence lawyers had argued for leniency in sentencing because of the state of “perpetual fear and sense of helplessness” among the community during that period.

Noting that the defence ultimately blamed the state for the crime, the judge said, “…any failure of the state machinery or omission by the enforcement agencies, or any commission of any forbidden act from any other forces belonging to any other community would trigger a chain reaction in an opposing manner and affect society”.

“This is the lesson that has been learnt from this extremely bitter experience of the blasts,” Uthirapathi concluded.

Pointing out that all the accused were in prison throughout the nearly 10-year trial period, and had they been given bail they could have more effectively defended themselves, the judge noted that the prosecution had sought death for the convicts.

An amendment to the criminal procedure code says invoking capital punishment was a matter left to the court’s discretion, Uthirapathi pointed out.