The strange case of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan: Over 14 years as undertrial on charges of conspiracy to wage war

    This is the first in four parts series on “Terror tale: The strange case of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan” is one of the many such intriguing cases where Muslim youths were arrested on mere charges and are damned to spend their youthful years behind bars as under trials.

    By M Reyaz,,

    Kolkata/New Delhi: On mere charge of alleged conspiracy to ‘wage war against the government’ an accused is languishing in jail for over 14 years. The story of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan of Kolkata is one of most intriguing, for in the same month in January, 1999 he was made co accused, along with Syed Abu Nasir of Bangladesh and others in two terror cases – one in Kolkata and other in Delhi.

    File photo of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan (Courtesy: ToI).

    While in October, 2006 Akhlaque was acquitted from the Delhi case, he is still languishing in Kolkata’s Presidency Jail as an under trial in connection with the Kolkata case. What is more intriguing is that he is behind bar, although in the same case the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) had granted him bail way back in April, 1999 as he had failed to furnish the security bond on time.

    The story of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan is one of the hundreds of Muslim youths who made headlines at the time of their arrests, allegedly for links with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) or some terror outfits, but have gradually been forgotten, although they still languish in jail for years.

    Akhlaque was arrested first in a case by the Bhawanipur Police in Kolkata (Police later discharged him from that case) on January 7, 1999, during the month of Ramzan, and since then he has been in jail, although he was discharged from this particular case too.

    Akhlaque Ahmed Khan was charged in two cases on charges of waging war against the government and working as conduit to terror forces, besides several other charges – one in Kolkata and other in Delhi – and acquitted from the Delhi case for want of any evidence against him.

    He is one of the four co-accused in a case pending in a fast-track court in Kolkata. I met Akhlaque about two weeks back, few days before Eid-ul-Fitr, in the fast track court in Kolkata.

    He is now 40 years old, half bald, and had not shaved for few days. A pensive and thoughtful man, he appeared calm, though not at all happy with the day’s proceeding. After the hearing, I overheard him, explaining to his lawyer that his counsel missed an opportunity to cross question the prosecution witness, whose statement was recorded that day.

    Although Akhlaque was given the bail order in April 1999, along with two other co-accused who are since out on bail, he had not deposited the security bond since he was anyway an accused in another case in Delhi and was serving as under trial in Tihar Jail. Meanwhile, charge sheet was filed in the case.

    The dilapidated entrance of Masoom Travels.

    After his acquittal in October, 2006 in the Delhi case, as he approached the CMM to furnish the bail, he was not allowed to furnish the bail bond on the ground that the charge-sheet has been filed and hence he has lost his right to bail. His repeated petitions to the CMM, the session court and the Calcutta High Court was hence rejected and is consequently still in jail for over 14 years now.

    Akhlaque was a bright student, who had completed his studies first from Saifee Hall School in Kolkata and then did graduations from the Aligarh Muslim University. He later did masters from the Calcutta University and had also done courses in Adeeb-e-Mahir from Jamia Urdu, Aligarh.

    Akhlaque hit the headline once again in several news papers in Kolkata when he completed MBA in distance mode in 2011 from the Presidency Jail at the age of 38.

    Later in his office, Azad Ahmed Khan, his youngest brother, showed me a hand drawn greeting card that Akhlaque had sent to one of his politician friends from jail, adding that he was very intelligent and creative and was good at art as well.

    Third in the family of six brothers and two sisters, then 26, Akhlaque was running a Travel Agency “Masoom Travels” in central Kolkata, near his house, and was about to be married in few months, when he was first arrested on January 7, 1999. It was month of Ramzan then.

    Since then the fate of this family, who originally hails from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh, but are settled in Kolkata for decades, has changed for worse. Shocked and under depression, his father Nurul Huda Khan died on June 9, 1999, six months after his son was arrested.

    In 2009, his mother fell very sick when both her kidneys failed and later died, but even then he was not granted a parole to take part in the last rite of his mother.

    Azad Ahmed Khan says, “It’s been very difficult time for the family as besides social stigma we have difficulties in managing the never ending fees towards legal expenses.” Azad has now started another small travel agency in his name, as one of his elder brothers runs the old Masoom Travel.

    Azad Ahmed Khan, youngest brother of Akhlaque at his shop.

    Akhlaque has spent the most precious years of his life in jail, but is still hopeful that he will be acquitted. While talking to me in court, in presence of three police escorts, he said, “It has become important now to be acquitted from this case.” Perhaps, he is hopeful, the acquittal will restore the family dignity. While talking animatedly about his case, he added, one can not deny the fact that there is certain kind of biasness.

    Advocate Feroz Ghazi, general secretary of South Asian Minorities Lawyer Association (SAMLA), who was Akhlaque’s counsel in the Delhi case, says, “This is a classic case, where no explosion occurred and not a drop of blood was shed, and on mere charges of conspiracy, a person is made to to spend the precious youthful years of his life in jail as under trial.”

    He added that Akhlaque was acquitted in the Delhi case on the similar charges of conspiracy to wage war against government, as the court was unable to find any acceptable evidence of any kind of conspiracy.

    Read more details about the cases against Akhlaque, the goof ups and present situation tomorrow.

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