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Arundhati Roy wants Afzal retried
Ramananda Sengupta in New Delhi | December 12, 2006 22:55 IST
Author-activist Arundhati Roy made an impassioned appeal on Tuesday for a re-investigation into the case of Mohammad Afzal Guru, the man awarded a death sentence by the Supreme Court for his involvement in the December 13, 2001 attack on Parliament.
Speaking at the launch of the book titled 13 December, A Reader, The Strange Case Of The Attack On The Indian Parliament at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, she said "today in itself is a political occasion, a political victory, because there have been people who have fought a pretty long, a pretty frightening and pretty lonely battle for many many years, and now finally it is out in the open and out in the mainstream."
Speaking before her, Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising, who also has an essay in the book, said she decided to revisit the records of the case, and there was "clear evidence that Afzal was not being represented by a lawyer."
The court appointed Neeraj Bansal to represent him, and subsequently anti-terrorist lawyer Seema Gulati, who then withdrew because she was representing some other accused.
"Justice Dhingra then asked Neeraj Bansal to represent Afzal as an amicus curae, or friend of the court. So he was sentenced to death without proper representation. So I was unable to refrain from seeking mistrial," she said.
According to her, if a senior lawyer believes there has been a serious lapse of justice, the lawyer may file a certificate seeking a miscarriage. And that is what she proposes to do.
"I want to talk about why this case is important," said Arundhati Roy.
"It's not just about the attack on Parliament, it not just about Afzal, all those very specific issues have been raised here... but really it is about what kind society would we like to live in, now and in the future? What role do we see for ourselves? Because in this Parliament attack, you will see very clearly the part played by the police, by the security apparatus in Kashmir, by the mainstream media, by the mob, by all of us, in our silences, and in our speaking out."
"I have to say that the media has played an extremely coercive part in the build-up to the death sentence being handed out to Mohammad Afzal. But also, it is true that all the articles in this book have been published in the mainstream press. It is that space that we are seeking to expand. Because we are today being run by the judiciary. I don't think there is any country where there is so much news about the judiciary. So we have a judiciary that micro-manages our lives. We have a system in place now which is turning parts of India into a police State. We have the highest number of custodial deaths in the world. India has refused to sign any international convenent on torture. So we're becoming a militarised police society. In such a situation, what kind of a role do we play? How do we expand the democratic space?"
"When the special cell arrested S A R Geelani a day after the Parliament attack, from that day on, there was such a deadly game that was played out. The special cell put out propaganda of the most abominable sort, which was disseminated even by the most respected mainstream newspapers and television channels in this country. And then followed a sort of parallel game, where you build up national hysteria by telling these lies again, while the judicial system never looked at these reports, which never come under judicial scrutiny. This allows the courts to function in a completely unaccountable way. Because apart from the fact that Afzal did not have legal representation, the fact is that there is not a single piece of evidence which withstands legal scrutiny."
"So the courts have admitted that there have been instances of fabricated evidence, evidence that has been tampered with, phone records that are false; seizure memos, arrest memos, material discrepancies -- all these are admitted, but nothing is done about it, because ideologically, there is this parallel war going on in the press and the public."
"Eventually the Supreme Court says it has no direct evidence against Afzal, it has circumstantial evidence, it says there is nothing to connect him to a terrorist organisation, but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, he must be hanged. And then you have opinion polls based on people who are influenced by this."
"Is this the kind of society that we look forward to becoming? Recently on the television channels you had a police officer who came out and said in detail how he had tortured Afzal. He has gone on record saying he used electrodes and all that."
"On that programme there were senior lawyers, senior policemen, senior journalists, and no one had anything to say about a man coming out and saying 'I torture people because it is my national duty'. He more or less said that. No human rights organisation has taken suo moto notice of this, it has a become a part of the texture of our lives. In Chile, 3,000 people were killed during the reign of (Auguste) Pinochet over 17 years. We can do much better than that in India. Even the officials statistic in Kashmir is 45,000."
"We have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, where forget capital punishment, summary execution is allowed by non-commissioned officers. A huge population of this country is hostage to this. In the whole trial of Afzal, apart from what is going on in court, you have a whole family being hostage to what the STS can do."
Roy said when she was asked whether she believed the attack on Parliament was an 'inside job' she had said, "I don't think we can even know whether it was an inside or an outside job, because we have a system of layers now, at the bottom of which are organisations like the special task force, the Special Operations Group in Kashmir, shading into the Ikhwanvis who are the renegades, shading into surrendered militants, and there is an exchange of bodily fluids that goes on, and we don't what's inside and what's outside anymore."
"Even if there were a parliamentary enquiry, I don't think we would come out with blueprints and plans and bombs planted under somebody's bed. I think the only thing we can hope for is that some journalists will start to pull the threads, and the knit will unravel at high speed. Because if you are in a relationship with someone, and that someone begins to tell lies, then you want to know why they are lying. And there have been plenty of lies that have been told in this case, from beginning to end."
Others who spoke included Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande, Delhi University Professor Nirmalangshu Mukherji, alternative media expert Shuddhabrata Sengupta and columnist Praful Bidwai.