The Case Of The Absconding Lawyer

Photo: Trilochan S Kalra

WHEN DELHI lawyer Humam Ahmed Siddiqui saw a break in the hectic schedule of the SIMI tribunal underJustice Geeta Mittal, he headed straight to his father-in-law’s home in Gonda in Uttar Pradesh to fetch his children from there. Defending SIMI, Siddiqui had since May attended the tribunal’s sittings at Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai. A veteran of three tribunals and an ex-SIMI officebearer, Siddiqui knew every case past and present, the best defence arguments, and, most importantly for SIMI, the loopholes in the prosecution’s case. At 8 am on June 23, 2008, as he stood at the Gonda railway station, the anti-terrorism squad swooped down and arrested him.
Siddiqui’s case dates to 2001. Police say that on September 15 that year, he and ex-SIMI president Shahid Badr Falahi made speeches against Hinduism at a madarsa in Gorakhpur city, 800 km east of Delhi. (Falahi was given bail in this case five years ago.) The police had also created another FIR against four local Muslims for attending that meeting. Neither FIR showed how the police got wind of the meeting. Intelligence agents, who claimed to have attended the meeting, were the only prosecution witnesses. That the police registered the FIRs six days after the alleged incident immediately raised doubts that the cases were fabricated. The other four accused secured bail, though by then they had spent two months in jail.
Seven years later, the state government is yet to give a routine sanction to start prosecution against Siddiqui and Falahi. Yet, though virtually dead for seven years, the case suddenly came alive miraculously with Siddiqui’s arrest in June. Presenting Siddiqui before the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Gorakhpur on June 23, the police claimed he had admitted to his role in blasts that had rocked Gorakhpur in 2007. Police said they had sent Siddiqui notices and warrants to his father’s house in Sultanpur city and then attached his house in a village in the Sultanpur district. But the house they attached is an ancestral property that Siddiqui hasn’t visited in a quarter century. As for the court notices, Siddiqui says he never received them at his father’s house.
NOT ONLY has Siddiqui been part of the defence team for Shahid Badr Falahi at all the SIMI tribunals, he had deposed before the first tribunal in 2001-02 and was crossexamined by the Home Ministry’s lawyer. Siddiqui’s name is printed on the reports of the three tribunals. Yet, the Gorakhpur police say he was absconding. His former associate, Supreme Court lawyer Satyanarayan Vashisth, told TEHELKA: “Siddiqui’s arrest could be the government’s way to cripple the defence at the tribunal.”
Siddiqui languished in jail for exactly a month. Gorakhpur lawyer Radheshyam Pandey finally managed bail for him on July 16. In a total mockery of police and jail accountability, Siddiqui could walk out of his cell only a week later, on July 23, because processing the paperwork took that long. By then, the hearings at the SIMI tribunal had already been held at Udaipur, Bhopal, Aurangabad and Mumbai, where the defence was forced to appear without his valuable support. Siddiqui thought better than to rejoin the defence team.
Ever the lawyer, Siddiqui won’t talk about the case as it is pending trial. But he denies he confessed to his involvement in the Gorakhpur blasts. He may be free now but his reputation is in shreds, vilified in just a month. The media widely published a news item released by a news agency, which quoted a top Uttar Pradesh police officer as saying that Siddiqui had confessed to “managing funds” of the banned organisation and that he sent money to members in different states. The report claimed Siddiqui was in touch with ex-SIMI general secretary Safdar Nagori, who was arrested in Indore in March this year.
The widely internalised prejudice against SIMI was perhaps revealed most starkly when a Hindi newspaper reporter visited Siddiqui’s retired father in Sultanpur while Siddiqui was still in jail in Gorakhpur. In the course of the interview, Siddiqui’s father told the reporter that as a government servant he had lived in many cities and named a few. The reporter got stuck on one name: Azamgarh. The newspaper report he wrote suggested that Siddiqui must have got close to ex-SIMI president Falahi, who is an Azamgarh native, when his father was posted there.
“You know something?” Siddiqui says with dismay. “I wasn’t even born when my father lived at Azamgarh.”
Reported by Anil Varghese from Gorakhpur and New Delhi