Wednesday, Dec 18, 2002
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THE PARLIAMENT ATTACK case has concluded in a dramatic fashion with the special court finding all the four accused guilty and upholding most of the charges the prosecution had levelled against them. Of the four, three two Jaish-e-Mohammed militants, Shaukat Hussein Guru and Mohammed Afzal, and the suspended Delhi University lecturer, Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani have been convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the first persons to be held guilty under the legislation, which was passed amidst controversy by a joint session of Parliament in March this year. The special court judge has held them guilty of conspiring with the five slain terrorists to capture Parliament House, take the MPs present hostage and kill a select few such as the Prime Minister and the Home Minister thereby upholding the broad outline of the conspiracy as detailed by the prosecution.
One of the striking things about this case is the speed with which the whole process from chargesheet to conviction has taken place. The attack on Parliament House took place a little over a year ago and since the special court framed charges only this June, the trial proceedings have been over in less than six months. Even if a part of the reason for the swiftness owes to the circumvention of time-consuming legal procedures that POTA makes possible, the overall sense of urgency in reaching a judicial conclusion has been unmistakable and has played an enormous role in hastening the proceedings. The fact that so many witnesses were heard and so many documents were sifted through in this period is a testimony to the scorching judicial pace set by the court. If cases can be disposed of so quickly, then there is no justification for the criminal justice system in India to shamble along at such an excruciatingly sluggish pace. The commitment to hastening the delivery of justice must be irrespective of considerations that are related to the high-profile nature of the case or the degree of official interest in it.
It was widely believed that the prosecution's case had become much more difficult when the case encountered an unexpected snag. The special court had admitted transcripts of incriminating telephone conversations as evidence but this was overruled by the Delhi High Court which held much to the embarrassment of the prosecution that the transcripts could not be used in the case as the police had failed to follow the procedures laid down under POTA for tapping phones. It was by tapping telephones that the police unearthed the conspiracy and the transcripts had seemed very important, if not vital, for the success of the prosecution's case under POTA. Apparently, the special court judge, S. N. Dhingra, felt there was sufficient evidence in the confessional statements and other incriminatory facts unearthed by the police to find the accused guilty of most of the offences they were charged with.
The fact that the judge has upheld the prosecution's case substantially is reflected in the fact that only two offences under POTA membership of a terrorist organisation and possessing the proceeds of terrorism have not been maintained. While both Guru and Afzal played a direct role in assisting the fidayeen to launch their attack on Parliament, the involvement of Geelani is relatively somewhat tangential. Even so, all three have been found guilty of offences where the maximum penalty is death, something which the prosecution has sought. What remains now is for the special court to pass the sentence on the four accused in this case which has excited considerable interest and a fair amount of criticism about the manner in which the police conducted the investigation and the manner in which they attempted to legitimise the tapped telephone transcripts. It took those accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination over a decade to receive final justice. This is still an appeal away in the Parliament attack case, but it will be reached in much less time.
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