Eleven years after a blast at the historic Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court is expected to pronounce its judgment in the 2007 case on Monday. The fourth additional metropolitan sessions-cum-special court for NIA cases had concluded the trial, and last week posted the case for judgment on 16 April.
Nine persons were killed and 58 were injured in the blast during Friday prayers at the historic mosque in Hyderabad on 18 May, 2007. Five persons were killed in subsequent police firing near the mosque as protests broke out after the blast. The case, that has been linked with the 2007 Ajmer Sharif Dargah blast, 2008 Malegaon blasts, and the Samjhauta Express attack, has seen many twists and turns in the course of investigation in the last 10 years — from witnesses turning hostile to the lack of evidence.
After initial investigation by local police, the case was transferred to the Central Bureau Of Investigation (CBI), which then filed a chargesheet. Subsequently, the NIA took over the case from the CBI in 2011. Between 2011 and 2013, NIA filed three supplementary chargesheets.
A total of 226 witnesses were examined during the trial and as many as 411 documents were exhibited. Eventually, 10 persons allegedly belonging to right-wing organisations were named as accused in the case.
However, only five of them — Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary — were arrested and faced trial in the case.
In 2013, the high court in Hyderabad cancelled the bail granted by a lower court to Gupta and Sharma — former members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Two other accused — Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra — are still absconding, while another accused Sunil Joshi has passed away. Investigations were underway against two other accused.
In March 2017, Aseemanand, who is also known as Jatin Chatterjee, was granted bail in the 2007 Mecca Masjid bomb blast case. Earlier associated with the RSS, the Right wing leader is considered an ideologue of the Abhinav Bharat — a fringe-group linked to other similar attacks targeting minority groups.
Aseemanand was an accused even in the 2007 Samjhauta Express attack and the Ajmer the same year — cases that also included other senior right-wing leaders as suspects. However, he was acquitted in the Ajmer Shareef Dargah blast case, having been given the "benefit of doubt" after several witnesses turned hostile.
As a report in The Times of India points out, key witnesses have retracted their statements against the RSS functionaries in the Mecca Masjid blast case. The witnesses had earlier said that the accused had used their mobile phones to contact each other before and after the blasts to avoid the phone calls being traced back to them.
In September 2013, Hyderabad High Court set aside the compensation paid to Muslim youths wrongly arrested in the Mecca Masjid blast case, an order that the state government protested against. On a public interest litigation, a division bench of the high court headed by Chief Justice Kalyan Jyothi Sengupta struck down a government order and directed it to recover the money already paid. It ruled that mere acquittal or discharge from a criminal case can't be basis for payment of such compensation.
The state government in January 2013 had paid Rs three lakh each to 20 people and Rs 20,000 each to 50 people. This was the first time in the country that the government paid compensation to people wrongly arrested and tortured on charges of terrorism. A fact-finding panel of the state minority commission found that police kept the youth in illegal confinement and tortured them.
Security has been heightened in Hyderabad in anticipation of the court verdict on Monday. Top officials of the city's police held a meeting and asked all zonal officials to make adequate security arrangements at all sensitive places to prevent any trouble, Deccan Chronicle reported.
Updated Date: Apr 16, 2018 11:02 AM