SAR Geelani, the former Delhi University lecturer was booked for sedition on early Tuesday morning for allegedly organising an event marking the death anniversary of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru at the Press Club of India.
Geelani was detained on Monday night and questioned for several hours before being placed under arrest. According to New Delhi District Commissioner of Police, Jatin Narwal, Geelani was arrested at 3 am under “IPC sections 124A (sedition), 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 149 (unlawful assembly).”
Geelani’s arrest comes in the context of increasing political tensions over the ‘anti-national’ protests that took place at Jawaharlal Nehru University which spilled over to a Delhi court where a mob of lawyers thrashed reporters before a hearing in a sedition case against student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar.
JNU students' union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested too over sedition charges in connection with an event on 9 February where JNU students were protesting against the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
Who is SAR Geelani? His conviction and consequent acquittal
Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, of Kashmiri origin taught Arabic at a college in Delhi during the time of his first arrest. He openly supports the idea of Kashmiri self-determination. Geelani was a suspect in the 2001 Parliament attacks along with Afzal Guru, Shaukat Hussain and Navjot Sandhu.
Three of the accused including Geelani were handed the death penalty while, Navjot Sandhu was acquitted of all charges except one under Section 123 of the Indian Penal Code (concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war) — she was then sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment for five years, according to this earlier Firstpost report.
However, Geelani’s conviction led to a “massive legal and civic campaign”, claimed Outlook in an oped. Geelani was tortured in police custody and was branded as guilty by the media. His wife and children were illegally detained.
His wife was told, “Your husband is in jail We will kill you. We will kill the children. You better tell him to come clean.” (Except from an interview printed in In Custody: Law, Impunity and Prisoner Abuse in South Asia).
After a relentless battle fought by his legal team, the Delhi High Court set aside his conviction and acquitted Geelani on all charges — the court found there was “no evidence to the effect that Gilani was maintaining personal or telephonic contacts with any of the deceased terrorists. There is no evidence of any participative acts in connection with or in pursuance of the conspiracy.
He was not connected with the procurement of hideouts, chemicals and other incriminating articles used by the terrorists. Speaking from the point of view of probabilities and natural course of conduct there is no apparent reason why Geelani would have been asked to join conspiracy,” as reported by P Venkatrama Reddi and PP Naolekar in Outlook.
Geelani: A resilient voice for independent Kashmir
Geelani has also been vocal about his support for an independent Kashmir. In various media interviews, he has come out openly and vehemently in support for Azaad Kashmir. “We talk about the freedom of expression, we hold seminars, and large debates, but where is it? The whole Kashmir is under curfew. The whole Kashmir is gagged, Kashmiris wherever they are, if they come out on the streets protesting and mourning, they are gagged. First goons and uncivilised elements in the society are facilitated to trash them, hit them, beat them, then police harasses them,” he said in an interview.
Geelani has also expressed his displeasure with the State’s treatment of Afzal Guru and his hanging. He has held numerous protests and events in the past.
In an interview with Frontline, he said:
“Afzal was so truthful about the evidence. When his lawyer suggested during the trial that Afzal did not go with Mohammad (the terrorist who was killed in the Parliament House attack) to buy the car (used in the attack), he intervened and said he went. He said he didn’t know why he was purchasing the car. He said he was introduced to him as a citizen of Kashmir from Doda and that he was told to take him to Delhi (by a Special Task Force official). He could have easily denied it. Though the procedure was followed, the whole process was flawed completely. The facts were brought to the knowledge of the courts, but they never looked into them. The Supreme Court said very clearly that it is not law which requires him to hang, but it is the sentiments, the collective conscience of the nation. I haven’t seen people of the country going after his blood. It is only the fringe elements which wanted him hanged. I am amazed that the people running this huge country have such a narrow vision.”
Perhaps, it is this dissenting voice that keeps him in radar of the State and police as an 'enemy of the state'.