Targeting Geelani

Published : Mar 11, 2005 00:00 IST

S.A.R. Geelani, the Delhi University lecturer who was acquitted in the Parliament House attack case, is shot at and injured in mysterious circumstances.

in New Delhi

THE focus of the national capital once again shifted to the December 13, 2001 terror attack on Parliament House. S.A.R. Geelani, lecturer at the Zakir Hussain College of Delhi University, who was acquitted by the Delhi High Court in October 2003 of conspiracy and terrorism-related charges in the case, was shot at and injured outside the house of his lawyer, Nandita Haksar, at Vasant Enclave on the night of February 8. The unidentified assailant fired five shots, of which three hit Geelani.

In December 2002, a special Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) court had sentenced to death Geelani, who was arrested soon after the December 2001 incident, along with Mohammad Afzal, Shaukat Guru and his wife Afzan Guru. The Delhi Police relied mostly on an intercepted telephone conversation in Kashmiri between Geelani and his half-brother to establish the conspiracy angle. Geelani appealed in the High Court in January 2003. In December that year, the court acquitted Geelani and Afsan Guru. The court held that there was nothing in the telephone conversation to implicate Geelani in the attack case. The Delhi Police then moved the Supreme Court, where the case is pending.

Angry scenes were witnessed outside the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) where Geelani was admitted in a serious condition by Nandita Haksar and her husband Sebastian Hongray. The police refused to allow anyone other than the doctors to see Geelani. Friends of Geelani, fearing the worst for his life, demanded that his immediate family members be given access to him. A large number of media personnel, students, and friends of Geelani, who had gathered outside the hospital, suspected that the Special Cell of the Delhi Police had masterminded the shooting.

The crowd heckled the police officials and demanded to know why Geelani was not given special protection.

Joint Commissioner of Police Ranjit Narayan said: "Geelani had never approached the police with a request to provide him security because of any threat to his life. There is no truth in the charge that the lecturer had been kept under surveillance." He dismissed the allegation that the police had masterminded the attack as a figment of imagination. The police alleged that Geelani's brother, Syed Bismillah Geelani, did not hand over the blood-stained sweater and jacket to the police.

The Crime Branch has been entrusted with the investigation into the shooting. At the request of the police, the Delhi government has constituted a team of two doctors, one a surgeon and the other specialising in forensics, to examine the `nature of injuries' sustained by Geelani, conduct a ballistic test of the bullets that got embedded in the body and compare the bullets with the empty cartridges found outside the lawyer's residence.

This is not the first time that Geelani has been attacked. In March 2004, he had filed an affidavit before the High Court saying that he was being shadowed by the police and intelligence agencies ever since his acquittal. He said he feared he might become a victim of a false encounter as several attempts were made on his life when he was in jail. Although the All India Defence Committee for S.A.R. Geelani filed a petition before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), no investigation was ordered into the charges.

In a statement to the press, Geelani said that although he could not know for certain whether it was policemen of the Special Branch who tried to kill him there were facts that pointed to their involvement. He said: "The only people who seem to be determined to harm me are the police in the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. They picked me up on December 14, 2001, and brutally tortured me in an effort to make me give a false confession saying I was involved in the conspiracy to attack Parliament House. They ran a vicious campaign through the media against me. They were visibly delighted the day I was sentenced to death by the Designated Court."

Geelani raised some crucial questions that the police have not answered so far. He said that apart from Nandita Haksar nobody had any prior knowledge about his visit to her house that evening. He said that since the only way of tracking his movements was by tapping his or his lawyer's telephones or monitoring his movements, the question the investigating agency should be asking is who could have access to this technology.

The police complained that Nandita Haksar informed them about the incident an hour after it occurred. The lawyer maintained that at that point her first priority was to save Geelani's life. Since there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, the police, clueless as they were, wanted to question Geelani as soon as possible. Doctors at the AIIMS did not give the police permission because Geelani was not fit enough to see them. In a statement issued six days after the incident, Geelani described his assailant as a man of medium height, wearing pants and shirt, of wheatish complexion, trimmed hair, unshaven and not wearing spectacles.

Geelani said: "I never had any intention of not giving my statement. But until February 13, my wound had still not been stitched up. I was feeling very weak. Moreover, I did not feel like giving any statement after the police gave out the news that I had `refused' to give a statement." He said that the police had been harassing his family. "They had taken away my car, PAN card and bank documents. They have even seized the computer I presented my children on my acquittal," he said.

Vijay Singh, member of the Delhi University Teachers Association's (DUTA) executive body, said the police had not even cordoned off the area where the shooting took place. In a letter to the NHRC, the Delhi University Teachers in Defence of S.A.R. Geelani said that the police actions "not only show the failure of the police to launch a serious investigation into this massive crime, there is an attempt to personalise what is clearly an enormous political crime".

The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices P.V. Reddi and P.P. Naolekar hearing the Parliament attack case (State v. Mohammad Afzal and others), sought a report from the Delhi Police about its investigation into the attack on Geelani.

"We are dismayed by this incident," the Judges said, after Geelani's counsel Ram Jethmalani briefed the court about the shooting. The court directed the state's counsel, Gopal Subramanium, to submit a status report. Jethmalani reminded the court that Geelani had filed an affidavit on April 13, 2004, in the apex court saying he apprehended danger to his life. Geelani has filed an application asking for the case to be handed over to an independent investigating agency.

The Delhi Police have tried to link the attack on Geelani to Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat, a suggestion that Geelani was quick to dismiss. "I am saddened to read that the police have tried to blame Mohammad Afzal and Shaukat. It was Afzal who told the media that I was being framed and the police told him not to speak about me. They expressed their happiness at my acquittal," he said.

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