Once an accused in 2001 Parliament Attack case, SAR Gilani was acquitted by Delhi High Court after the prosecution failed to produce any concrete evidence against him. In this exclusive interview, Gilani tells Syed Asma that Afzal would have been alive if a proper lawyer had represented him in trial court.
KL: When did you meet Afzal last?
SAR: I met him in mid of January and I was the last to meet him from the family. He met his family, his wife and his son, in August on Rakshabandhan. Usually his mother would also come to meet him. But this year she was seriously ill and later passed away in September. Afzal was mentally prepared for his execution. He would say that you can live for next 10 or 20 or 30 years in this world but you have to get prepared for the life hereafter which is unending. He said he is prepared for it. But he wasn’t aware that he would not be able to even meet his family. He did not expect that he would be denied some of basic human rights.
KL: What did you talk about in your last meeting?
SAR: In most of our meetings, we would discuss situation in Kashmir and, of course, his family. In previous two meetings, we talked about his petitions. Actually after Ajmal Kasab’s execution, I had apprehensions that he [Afzal] was the next and I expected that the government of India (GOI) would do it secretly. So I wanted to file two applications in Supreme Court (SC). One was that his [Afzal’s] execution should not happen in secrecy and the other was that Afzal’s case should also be treated in a similar way as the case of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins. There is a petition going on in SC of Davinder Singh and other accused in Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. Their mercy petitions were rejected two years back and then they were given time to file a review and that review petition is pending in SC. It is said that in-ordinance delay in execution of death penalty is a sufficient ground of commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment. SC is dealing with this legal point at the moment. So, I was discussing the same with him these days and I wanted to include Afzal in this as well.
KL: Was Afzal interested in doing that?
SAR: No. I was discussing and trying to convince him since December. I tried to discuss it with him in the last four meetings.
KL: Did he know about Ajmal Kasab’s execution? Did he have an idea that he would be next?
SAR: Yes, he knew about Kasab. [Pause]. He wasn’t expecting this but I had apprehensions. He wasn’t expecting that they [GOI] would stoop too low that they would not inform him about the rejection of his mercy petition.
KL: So you are saying he wasn’t informed about it?
SAR: No, he wasn’t. He was informed about his execution on February 9, 2013 after 6 am in the morning.
KL: How do you know that?
SAR: I know it because after a few days of his execution, I went to Tihar jail and met his jail inmates. They told me on February 8, they were together. They also told me that one of their inmates had got packed food from his home and they dined together. Besides, their cells were locked at their usual time. But next morning on February 9, their cells were not opened at their usual time which was 5:30 am. They would offer morning prayers in a small open space in front of their block but this morning their cells weren’t opened. Some of them made noise. It was around 6 am that they [jail authorities] took Afzal out and locked the block. Meanwhile, the inmates locked inside suspected something unusual and started making noise and chanted slogans. They told me that there were some activities happening in jail but they had never expected this was going to happen.
So it is only after 6 am that he was informed that he was to be hanged.
KL: Tell us something about your, Afzal’s and Shaukat Guru’s arrest and treatment in jail.
SAR: Afzal and Shaukat Guru were mishandled. I was spared because I resisted. I held very strong postures but the other two did not. I had suggested the same to them as well but they didn’t. I resisted and used very strong words. They were physically tortured. I wasn’t. But I was kept in a separate cell, a dead cell, in pitch darkness and isolated from others for many months. There I had no idea about day and night. All three of us were together just for a few days. Among us, Shaukat was the tortured the most. Afzal wasn’t but he was humiliated. Then after sometime, we were kept in separate cells in high security jail, a jail within a jail.
KL: All three of you are assumed to be innocent. Do you have an idea why only you three were chosen for all this?
SAR: What I could gather of all this is they [GOI] wanted it [Parliament attack] to get attributed to Kashmir. They had an occasion to do it. We knew each other before. After all this [Parliament attack] happened, they [GOI] needed people who would fit in the frame. They needed a mastermind. So, they needed someone who was well-placed and I was someone who was known for raising voice for Kashmir issue in Delhi, opposing Indian occupation and violation of human rights. I was vocal about Kashmir issue. Now they needed people who would look into the logistics of the things, so Shaukat and Afzal were taken in. Shaukat used to do fruit business. He owned many trucks. So it was this way that we were involved. This whole was an entrapment.
KL: Do you think that Delhi-based media was strongly used in this issue?
SAR: Yes it was. The unedited tape of that media confession was brought in the court. Afzal in the court had said that he was given a script to read in front of the media and the then ACP Rajbir Singh, the investigating officer, had dictated to him what to say before the media. And the whole job was to implicate me. But when the question about my role in the attack was asked, Afzal had said “nothing” and at that point of time, Singh shouted at Afzal in front of the whole media gathering and told him that he wasn’t supposed to say that and instead he was asked to say something else.
In fact, two journalists from that gathering were presented as witnesses in our case. They did not actually volunteered as witnesses but a warrant was issued against them to be present in the court as our witnesses. Indian media had sensationalized the whole issue from the day we were arrested.
KL: Did Afzal ever discuss with you how media was being used against him?
SAR: See, there was entrapment after entrapment. When he was presented before the media, many times his family was put under custody. He was continuously being threatened. Even the SC has recently said that this media has lost its authenticity. It is something that cannot be relied upon.
KL: You have been saying that Afzal did not get a fair trial. Why do you think so?
SAR: It is in the trail court that the case against you is built, examined and structured. In High Courts and Supreme Court, mostly the legal points are discussed. In the High Court, you don’t recall the witness, you don’t re-examine the evidences. So your whole case depends on the trail court. In Afzal’s case, he did not have a lawyer in the trial court. It is on record. He told the court that he wasn’t in position to hire a lawyer because of his poor financial condition. So as per the law, it was the state’s duty to provide him a lawyer of his own choice. It is on record that Afzal had named five lawyers but he wasn’t given any of them. Rather, the court had forced a lawyer on him, Neeraj Bhansal, who wasn’t interested to represent Afzal in the court. He had even filed an application that he doesn’t want to represent Afzal in the court. The court in turn had said that he [Bhansal] should remain as an amicus i.e. a friend of court. So the court wanted him to stay so that Afzal’s conviction becomes easy. When he didn’t have a lawyer, the witnesses and the evidence against him was not cross examined.
KL: Didn’t any of the lawyer’s from Kashmir volunteered to represent Afzal?
SAR: No. At that time, nobody volunteered. But I can tell you at that time, the whole situation was so charged up that none of the lawyer from Kashmir would have been able to do that. I don’t think at that very moment, anyone had shown any interest to represent Afzal.
KL: What about the pro-freedom camp? Didn’t they offer any help, legal aid or assistance to Afzal?
SAR: That I don’t know because we were all locked up at that time. But yes, some of them in the beginning had shown an interest. Abdul Gani Lone had visited my family but later he got killed. Syed Ali Geelani had also come and he was arrested. But after that, nobody showed any interest till we were convicted by the trail court.
KL: After your acquittal from High Court, did you approach any of them in Kashmir to represent Afzal in court?
SAR: After my acquittal, I engaged one of the finest criminal lawyers, Sushil Kumar, for him. But it was too late then because he did not get a fair chance to represent himself in the trial court. In Supreme Court, he was convicted on circumstantial evidence, otherwise his confession was considered as untruthful. The SC said that there was no direct evidence against him. The SC even said he was not a member of any unlawful organisation. The circumstantial evidences existed against him because he had no lawyer in the trial court. There was nobody who could cross-check the evidence produced against him.
KL: Did the local media’s coverage help in any way in that period?
SAR: Local media does not hold any importance in Delhi. But they too did not work in a manner they were supposed to. They didn’t give adequate coverage to the issue. They were carrying press-notes of agencies sent from Delhi.
KL: Why do you think Afzal’s execution was done clandestinely and in a hurry?
SAR: They [UPA] did it keeping in view the elections in 2014. They [Congress government] needed a sand bag to stop the Modi flood from spreading across the country. Afzal was used as a sand bag. But I pity this government because they can’t see beyond their electoral gains. They are not thinking how it will affect Kashmir. It will definitely have repercussions on Kashmir. By hanging Afzal, they have waged a war against Kashmir and the people of Kashmir have realized it. See how the youth of Kashmir is connecting to Afzal saying ‘I am Afzal’. See their reaction on social networking sites. See how Kashmiri students in India have come out on streets and reacted. After Maqbool Bhat, nothing happened immediately but what happened a few years after?
KL: What do you think was the state’s role in all this?
SAR: After Kasab was hanged, Omar Abdullah tweeted “other things can be similarly dealt with secrecy”. By other things, he meant Afzal. So I believe Omar Abdullah was taken in loop.
KL: Your reaction about the PDP’s statement that had they been in the government, things would have been different?
SAR: They are all the same. It would not have been any different.