The strange case of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan: Similar charges slapped in Delhi and Kolkata

    This is the second in four parts series on “Terror tale: The strange case of Akhlaque Ahmed Khan” which is one of 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.

    Read Part I here: Over 14 years as undertrial on charges of conspiracy to wage war

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    By M Reyaz,,

    Kolkata/New Delhi: A Bangladeshi national Syed Abu Nasir was arrested allegedly at the New Delhi’s Paharganj station with 2 Kg RDX and five detonators on January 7, 1999 by the Crime Branch of the Delhi Police. On the same night, Kolkata Police arrested Akhlaq Ahmed Khan, the owner of “Masoom Travels” from Kolkata.

    Huge quantity of ‘incriminating’ documents, including two Passports of Abu Nasir (Several Bangladeshi residents have two Passports – one India Special and another International Passport as per bilateral agreements), copies of several passports, air tickets, several international currencies, including Pakistani rupees and Bangladeshi Takas and the idol of a Hindu goddess were shown to be recovered. It should be pointed here, that the said Travel agency is in the heart of the city, with several guest houses around.

    The dilapidated entrance of Masoom Travels.

    Akhlaque was produced in the Alipur Court the next day and charged with violations of the Foreigners’Act, forgery, cheating and criminal conspiracy. He was granted bail after the statutory period of 91 days period as the Prosecution failed to file charge-sheet. He was later also discharged from this case.

    Delhi case: According to Delhi Police, they had “secret information” that some ISI agents were moving around Delhi with plans for serial blasts in the capital with view to wage war against the state. The Anti-Extortion Cell of DP got “specific information” on January 7, 1999 that an ISI agent was going to receive a consignment of explosives from another accomplice. The police contended that while they could apprehend Abu Nasir, another person managed to escape.

    Akhlaque was meanwhile also made a co-accused along with Abu Nasir and three others Mohd. Gulab, Mohd. Nawab and Agha Khan for waging war against Government of India. Akhlaque was hence transferred to Delhi’s Tihar Jail. They were all accused under sections 3 & 4 of the Explosives Substance Act, IPC 121 (Waging, or attempting to wage war against the Government of India), 121 A, 122, 123, and for violation of section 14 of the Foreigners Act. 21 witnesses were produced.

    After examining 21 witnesses, going through the evidences produced the Honorable court gave “thoughtful consideration to the arguments advanced” and concluded as regards to Gulab, Nawab and Agha Khan: “This court is unable to find any acceptable evidence connecting either of these three accused with any the existence of any conspiracy,” adding, “In fact the prosecution evidence as led before this court has failed to show existence of any conspiracy, whatsoever between any of the accused persons.”

    In fact the day, it was alleged that the conspiracy was hatched in the office of “Masoom Travels,” among all the five co-accused, it was later found out that the three of the accused Mohd. Gulab, Mohd. Nawab and Agha Khan were already in a jail in north Bengal.

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

    The accusation against Akhlaque, who was first arrested in a different case, though on the same day, was of being co-conspirator and for facilitating terrorist transportation as he was running a travel agency. As none of the witness testified against him, the only purported evidence against him was the two Passports of Abu Nasir allegedly found from the premise of the travel agency.

    The Delhi Court observed: “It fails imagination of this court as to why and what for the Kolkata Police had seized the passports of the accused Abu Nasir from possession of Akhlaque Ahmed,” as the Kolkata Police by that time had no information regarding involvement of Abu Nasir or his arrest, according to Tapan Bose, the IO from Kolkata who arrested him.

    Pointing to the fact that Akhlaque ran a travel agency, the court implied that it is but natural that copies of tickets, passports documents or in original might be found in the premise and concluded: “This court is unable to find any acceptable evidence connecting him, with accused Abu Nasir as regards existence of any conspiracy between them to commit any alleged offense.”

    On the violation of the Foreigners Act, allegedly because Abu Nasir was in the country without valid documents, during the trial no evidence was brought on record by the prosecution to the effect that either of those two passports was forged or its validity had expired. As pointed earlier several Bangladeshi residents have two Passports – one India Special and another International Passport as per bilateral agreements between the two countries.

    In fact it was conceded that Passports were valid and Abu Nasir had the valid documents. The Court, however, found Abu Nasir guilty of possessing RDX and detonators at the time of arrest but absolved him too of criminal conspiracy of designing, concealing or waging war against the Government of India.

    The Additional Session Session Judge MR Sethi hence acquitted Akhlaque and three others, except Abu Nasir, on October 18, 2006 adding, “The prosecution has miserable failed to prove any conspiracy between accused persons implicated in the present case, regarding their having conspired to wage war against the government of India, this court is of considered opinion that no offense whatsoever appears to have been committed by accused Akhlaq Ahmed, Agha Khan, Mohd. Gulab and Mohd. Nawab. All these four persons are acquitted in the present case.”

    Interestingly, the Delhi Police did not appeal against the judgement in the High Court.

    Kolkata case: Although acquitted by the Delhi Court, freedom has not come to Akhlaque as within days of his arrest , another FIR was already registered in the Taltala Police station of Kolkata on January 15, 1999 against Muhammad Abdullah Salafi, Mritunjoy Das, an employee of Masoom Travel, Akhlaque Ahmed Khan, and Syed Abu Nasir. The charges against them were similar of “waging war against the Government of India, and to destabilize the democratic process in India and to promote enmity between religious groups.”

    Akhaque, in particular, was accused of working as “Coordinator between groups of ISI agents and their Indian counterparts staying in different parts of India and also plays pivotal role for recruitment of new ISI agents/contacts to strengthen their operational network in India.”

    According to Police, IO Arindam Mukhopadhya of Kolkata Police Special Branch had raided the premise of the Masoom Travels on January 27, 1999 around 4.45 PM and was there till over 10 PM and found several “incriminating documents.” A 20 pages long seizure list was prepared, detailing list of documents, different currency notes, including a one rupee Pakistani note, several stamps, copies of passports, other documents, several tickets, etc. as also two Passports of Abu Nasir.

    As the Police had failed to file the charge-sheet within three months in the ongoing case too, after serving the statutory 90 days period Akhlaque was given the bail order in April 1999, along with two other co-accused Abdullah Salafi, Mritunjoy Das who are since out on bail, on security deposit of Rs 10,000.

    However, Akhlaque did not deposit 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. After his acquittal in October, 2006 in the Delhi case, as he approached the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) to furnish the bail, he was not allowed to deposit 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.

    The trial for the case on in a fast-track court in Kolkata and the next hearing is scheduled to be on 26 and 27 of this month.

    Read about the loopholes in the case, and the defence version tomorrow.