Charged with UAPA, Muslim man languishing in jail for 9 years without trial, bail

Manzar Imam

A resident of Jharkhand, Manzar Imam was arrested in 2013 under UAPA. Of the total 369 witnesses in the case, not even one of them have so far been examined in the matter.

TCN Staff Correspondent 

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NEW DELHI — Manzar Imam, a resident of Bariatu Basti in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district, was arrested in 2013 under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA for allegedly conspiring and preparing to carry out terror attacks — targetting important places across the country. Nine years have passed by, but not even charges have been framed against the suspected operative of the Indian Mujahideen (IM) — a proscribed terrorist organisation.

Framing of charges under section 211-224 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) is a prerequisite for a trial to begin.

Of the total 369 witnesses, not even one of them have so far been examined in the matter. He has been lodged in prison for the past nine years without a trial. The accused has not been granted bail either.

After Imam approached the Delhi High Court, stating that he has been incarcerated since October 1, 2013, a single-judge bench, comprising Justice Jasmeet Singh, ordered the NIA Special Court to hear and dispose of the bail application within 75 days from the date of this order (which is October 19, 2022).

When his lawyer Advocate Kartik Murukutla apprised the court about the case and pleaded for a grant of bail, the counsel for the National Investigation Agency (NIA) argued that the accused had not exhausted the remedy to approach the special judge.

The applicant — in response — sought to withdraw the application, with the liberty to approach the Sessions Court on similar grounds. However, he urged that a time frame be fixed for disposing of the bail application — considering the prolonged incarceration.

Finding the request to be “justified”, the court directed the trial court to hear and dispose of the case within 75 days.

These days, two designated special courts for the NIA (the Additional Sessions Judge and the Principal District and Sessions Judge) in the Patiala House Court complex are hearing such cases.

After filing of the charge sheets in the case, according to the NIA, arguments on the charges were held eight times between August 2014 and March 2020, “but unfortunately the presiding officers of the Trial Court were transferred from their office before completion of arguments on charge and therefore, the charge argument starts afresh before every new incumbent judge”.

An alleged member of the IM’s “sleeper cell” based in the country, Imam has been booked under sections 121A and 123 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and sections 17, 18, 18B and 20 of the UAPA. 

The charges include conspiracy to wage or attempt or abet to wage war against the Government of India, concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war, raising funds for a terrorist act, conspiracy and recruiting people for a terrorist act.

He along with 27 others was acquitted on February 8 this year in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts case by a special court, following a prolonged trial of 13 years. He was first arrested on March 3, 2013, from Ranchi’s Kanke in Jharkhand in connection with the Ahmedabad blasts case. 

At least 35 FIRs were filed in Ahmedabad, where the blasts had taken place, and in Surat, where the police had recovered bombs from different locations after the serial explosions. The trial began after as many as 35 cases were merged and consolidated into one case.

But he could not walk out of jail as he was named in connection with another FIR (No. RC 6/2012/NIA/DLI, PS NIA, New Delhi) that was registered in Delhi.

Raising the issue of long incarceration of accused in NIA cases and violation of the right to a speedy trial, Imam had moved a plea in the same court last year — seeking a day-to-day hearing in his case before the trial court.

He had appealed that special courts should only deal with offences probed by the NIA and that trials must be expeditiously held by such courts. A division bench of the High Court in the case has been monitoring the pendency of such cases before special courts in the national capital. 

The latest status report submitted by the Registrar on September 19 stated that a total of 44 NIA cases were pending before the two designated special courts as on July 31.

A student of Urdu, Imam was a gold medallist at Ranchi University.

His mother Zahida Khatoon, 75, Imam has been framed. “He came out clean in the Ahmedabad case, and the same will happen in Delhi as well,” she said, but added that “justice delayed is justice denied”.