Hyderabad: As four of the 10 youths who spent more than a decade in prison shared their horrendous experiences and the torture they endured at the hands of police, a sense of deja vu filled the Muslim community.
The youths, who had been found guilty in a suicide bombing case at the city police Task Force headquarters in October 2003 but were later exonerated by a Hyderabad court, recounted their tales of woe that began after they were picked up.
The stories of Mohammad Kaleem, Abdul Zahed, Syed Haji and Mohammad Khalid also brought to mind the painful memories of 2007-08 when nearly a hundred Muslim youth in the city were picked up and tortured on suspicion of their involvement in the bomb blasts that rocked Mecca Masjid.
These youths, from the 2007-08 period, however, were lucky as most of them were released following public outcry.
About two dozen of them who continued to be held by authorities were acquitted within a couple of years.
Ongoing revelations of the use of torture by police to extract confessions, as well as cases of abuse suffered in jail, are stirring up protests within the minority community.
Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi has demanded that the police officials responsible for destroying the lives of innocents be made accountable.
“Will action be taken against these officers or not?” he asked. He pointed out that the police and the prosecutors could not prove any charge — whether that of conspiracy and possession of explosives.
Amjad Ullah Khan Khalid of Majlis Bachao Tehreek demanded that the police be held to account.
“We urge the TRS government to take action in the matter and do justice to the innocents whose lives were destroyed,” he said.
The four youths spent more than 13 years in jail.
Haji was 21 years old when he was arrested. “They tortured [me], forced me to sign blank papers and charged me with involvement in the blast. My only fault was my friendship with Zahed and Kaleem; they too were arrested,” he said.
Haji, Kaleem, Abdul Zahed all residents of Malakpet, have begun meeting and spending time together at their usual haunt, outside a local mosque.
“We were framed in a false case. The court has acquitted us, but who will return my 12 years and compensate my family for their suffering?” he asked.
Khalid also complained he was tortured to force him to confess to deeds he did not commit. Having lost his parents in childhood and subsequently brought up by grandparents, Khalid says leading a normal life will be a huge challenge.
Abdul Zahed recalled the abuse he was subjected to in jail.
“We were mere accused but they treated us like convicted terrorists. Police and media created an impression that we were terrorists and ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence] agents,” he said.
“They named our barrack in jail an ISI cell. Even when we were taken to hospital for treatment, policemen used to tell doctors that we were terrorists and ISI agents and their attitude would suddenly change.”
He recalled that even though the court had initially granted bail to the accused, after police failed to file charges on time, the police — acting at the behest of the Home Minister — had managed to get the bail cancelled in the High Court.
Victim of communal bias
Abdul Zahed, who is happy to be back home, has no doubts that he was a victim of communal bias by the investigation agencies.
“They told me that I was arrested because I am the brother of Abdul Shahed.”
Abdul Shahed was the accused in another case, and police say he was killed in Pakistan.
Zahed’s trouble with the local police had started when he was arrested on charges of conspiring to kill a local BJP leader, N. Indrasena Reddy.
“The false case was booked under police pressure as we had protested against putting up a Ganesh Pandal [a temporary structure set up to venerate the deity Hindu Ganesh] in a grave yard. All the accused in that case were also acquitted after which I was framed in blast case.”
The National Minorities Commission recommended that the state government pay compensation to Muslim youngsters arrested in connection with the Mecca Masjid blast after the CBI and NIA arrested a group of Hindus, including Swami Aseemanand in the case. While a compensation of Rs300,000 (Dh17,156) each was paid out to some, no action, however, was taken against the guilty policemen.