Karnataka: False accusations, ruined lives

Several Muslim men spent decades in jail on charges of terrorism before being acquitted, while many continue to languish in prison, awaiting justice.

Published : Mar 22, 2021 06:00 IST

Syed Sadiq alias Sameer.

Syed Sadiq alias Sameer.

ON December 28, 2001, Syed Sadiq alias Sameer, a 25-year-old resident of Bengaluru (then Bangalore), was in Surat to participate in a seminar organised under the aegis of the All India Minority Education Board. It was the second day of the seminar when the Surat Police raided the premises where the event was held. Sadiq was one of the 123 Muslim men arrested at the event and charged with being a part of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), a banned organisation.

Speaking to Frontline , Sadiq said: “During the interrogation, I was tortured and accused of being part of the Al Qaeda and different terrorist organisations which I had never heard of. It was a fake case.”

Jailed under the harsh Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, Sadiq was able to secure bail only after a year and he returned to Bengaluru, where he tried to rebuild his life. Branded as a ‘terrorist’, he found it difficult to get married, but eventually found someone who was a distant family acquaintance. Owing to societal prejudice, Sadiq, who has a diploma in mechanical engineering, could not get a full-time job but his life chugged along even amid his taxing legal battle in the Surat case, for which he had to go to Gujarat every month.

Even as Sadiq was gradually finding his feet in Bengaluru, he was arrested for a second time in February 2008 along with 17 other Muslim men in what came to be known as the Hubli SIMI conspiracy case. Charged under various sections of the UAPA, the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Explosive Substances Act, he spent three years in Dharwad Central Jail before being released on bail in 2011.

Also read: Retreat of democracy: The terror of laws

Sadiq said: “All the top police officials in Karnataka who were investigating the case knew that I was not guilty. In fact, a police officer confessed to me that he was aware of my innocence, but he said that the police’s hands were tied as the case had been reported widely and they needed a scapegoat. Since I had already been branded in the Surat case, they found an easy target in me.”

After obtaining his bail in 2011, Sadiq was fighting legal battles on two fronts: the Surat case and the Hubli case. This meant that Sadiq, who was the father of a child by then, had to be present in Surat every month and in Hubli (now Hubballi) for three to four days a week for daily hearings as that case was fast-tracked. Sadiq asked: “How could I find a job or start any business in such a situation?”

While Sadiq found partial relief in May 2015 when all the 18 accused in the Hubli case were acquitted, hearings in the Surat case toddled on until 2021, when the chief judicial magistrate’s court in Surat acquitted all the 127 accused men.

Finally, Sadiq was able to take a deep breath of relief as, for the first time in 20 years, a modicum of dignity had been restored to his life and he could confidently refute any accusation of him being a terrorist.

Also read: UAPA: India's anti-India Act

Sadiq, who is 45 now, said: “I don’t know how I’ve lived my life. Half my life has been spoilt. I faced so many financial and social problems. I had to sell my parents’ house in Gurappana Palya [in Bengaluru] to meet my legal expenses. I was even ostracised at the mosque where I used to pray.” He said that a system should be in place where the investigating police officials are punished for foisting false cases and suitable compensation is given to the acquitted victims so that it acts as a deterrent to the police.

Sadiq’s case is unique as he was implicated in two separate cases, only to be acquitted in both subsequently; but there are several cases of Muslim men from Karnataka who have been jailed on terror charges, only to be acquitted after several years. In the Hubli case for instance, 17 Muslim men, apart from Sadiq, were jailed for eight years before being acquitted in 2015 after 45 witnesses did not support the police version. The case of Dr Allah Baksh Yadwad in this case was particularly poignant as he was a diligent student at the Karnataka Institute of Medical Sciences who was in the middle of his residency period when he was arrested in 2008.

Other cases

If we go back further in time, there was another outrageously shocking case of the brothers Nisaruddin Ahmed and Zaheer Ahmed who were arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 1994 from Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi) after being accused of having a hand in the Hyderabad bomb blasts of 1993.

While Zaheer served 14 years in jail after which he was granted bail, Nisaruddin was released only in 2016 after spending almost 23 years in jail, when the duo was acquitted of all charges. Similarly, there was another case where Maulana Shabbir Gangawali Nadvi, a cleric from the coastal town of Bhatkal, was charged with having played a role in the Chinnaswamy Stadium bombing that took place in Bengaluru in 2010. He was released by a local court in Mangaluru after being acquitted of all charges in 2017.

Also read: Surat court acquits 127 people who were arrested in December 2001 under the sections of the UAPA

Muthi-ur-Rahman Siddiqui, a journalist, blamed the mentality of police officials who are “predisposed that Muslims are susceptible to terrorism and eager to prosecute Muslims” for these kinds of cases to occur. Siddiqui was himself a victim of a false case as he was locked up for six months between August 2012 and February 2013 after he was accused of being a member of terrorist organisations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami and accused of conspiring to assassinate Hindu right-wing journalists and politicians.

Siddiqui, who was charged under various sections of the UAPA and the IPC, was released after the court found there was “no prosecutable evidence” against him.

Mohammed Niyaz S., a Bengaluru-based advocate and State general secretary of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), a human rights organisation that has often provided legal aid to victims of false terror charges, blamed “draconian laws” like the UAPA which give wide-ranging powers to police officials that infringe on the fundamental rights of citizens.

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