A torture tale of 26/11 accused: 33 months solitary confinement, trial in absence and now hunger strike

Sayeed Zabiuddin Ansari, with his face covered, leaves from a hospital in New Delhi June 29, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Mumbai:A torture tale of 26/11 accused, Deported from Saudi Arabia on June 25, 2012, Zabiuddin Ansari, 35, grabbed space all over the media as Indian intelligence and investigation agencies claimed him to be Abu Jundal, who actively participated from Pakistan for 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008.

He is shown as an accused in 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case besides 2010 German bakery blasts. Investigators also implicated him in National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) case in Delhi and in two more UAPA cases in Beed and Nashik districts.

After his arrest, Ansari was interrogated extensively by many agencies for 4-5 months and was then finally lodged in Mumbai central prison famously known as Arthur Road Jail. He was kept in the same barrack where lone 26/11 convicted accused Ajmal Kasab was lodged before his execution.

Barrack No 12 is a three-storey structure of re-enforced concrete, with three cells on each floor. It is shrouded by metal sheets that cut off all sunlight, making it impossible for the inmates to know whether it is night or day. A high voltage bulb burns day and night without a moment’s break. A layer of copper covers the cells to block out electro- magnetic radiation, and prevent the use of cell phones and other devices.

It is been 33 months that Ansari is lodged in this barrack that was specifically erected to lodge Kasab. It is the kind of solitary confinement that he is not allowed to meet other prisoners nor is he allowed to roam in the corridor to inhale free fresh air. The only human contact for the past 33 months or so has been the guards who push the food in through the door and seldom his lawyers if he is brought to the court.

Ever since his lodging in this barrack Ansari protested and filed numerous applications before court to shift him to other barrack where he may mingle with human beings but every time his applications were rejected.

He requested jail authority to transfer him to other barrack but he was told that his life is in danger if he is kept with other prisoners. He then filed application before trial court explaining his deteriorating mental condition due to solitary confinement and that he has started to see Kasab roaming in the barrack but court too rejected his prayer sighting jail authority’s security issue.

Bombay High Court too declined to interfere in the policy of prison officials in deciding where to keep Ansari.

In his final legal attempt, Ansari petitioned Supreme Court and it told him to file fresh application before trial court for relief – back to zero, Ansari again filed application and the trial court rejected that too.

This took Ansari 33 months and he moved every step of the legal authorities to find relief but he never found a bit of relief that compelled him to go for hunger strike. He resumed hunger strike on August 5, 2015.

Talking with TwoCircles.net his lawyer Asif Naqvi told, “He lost all battles to come out of solitary confinement and hence he has preferred to go on hunger strike. We expected trial court will break his solitary confinement after the SC order but it did not”.

“What else can he do”, he says adding, “he has no other person to talk with neither can he inhale fresh air there. This is inhuman treatment and a punishment before conviction.”

Naqvi is still hopeful and hence he has again challenged trial court order before Bombay high court. He says, “The matter is scheduled on September 15 and I will argue before court and will tell court that Ansari will die if he is not removed from solitary confinement”.

He says its more than two weeks that Ansari was produced before court due to compulsion as court was altering charges in Aurangabad arms haul case and during such proceeding presence of accused is a must. “He was produced only for alteration of charges but he was seldom produced before that proceeding. Ansari has sent a letter to court to not run trial in his absence but court is pleased to move further without his physical presence”.

It is been 40 days that Ansari has not eaten protesting solitary confinement and no reports have emerged from prison authority to indicate that he is being hospitalized.

Talking about his deteriorating physique due to hunger strike, he told, “When I met him two weeks before he had already lost 10-12 kgs and was not able to maintain eye contacts due to weakness. He also needed help while walking. God knows how much his health deteriorated in last 15 days”.

Jail authority does not allow lawyers or family members to meet with the prisoner if he is on hunger strike and this is the reason that his mother is not allowed to interview him.

Talking with Indian Express Ansari’s mother Rehana Begum,63, said,” “Not even animals are treated in this manner,” Qabar se bhi badtar hai (It’s worse than a grave),”

She also said, “Nothing has been established or proven in court. Why torture him without giving him access to people or sunlight or fresh air before he is tried,” adding,” “I cannot forgive the government, the police or the jail authorities for his condition…He has lost 10 to 12 kilos since he started his fast.”

Besides this, Maharashtra government has invoked section 268 of Criminal code against Ansari in 2012 that does not allow him to be taken out of prison and compels him to be produced before courts through video conferencing.

Ansari appealed against such resolution brought in by state government but Bombay high court rejected his petition and upheld government’s decision to restrict his travelling between courts and prison.

“Fair trial cannot be conducted if accused is not brought physically before court. If accused is produced through video conference then he cannot discuss his case with lawyers as he can never be sure that he is not listened by others”, Naqvi opines.

One can make out from the thorough tale that even if, for the sake of argument, one consider Ansari’s moving between court and prison is apprehensive from security point of view but his solitary confinement in the name of providing security to him is never justified and on the other hand amounts to torture, frustration and degrading of human values.

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