Statement of Sayed Abdul Rahman Geelani
August 4, 2005
I have been accused of being a part of a conspiracy to attack the Indian Parliament. I was arrested, tortured and put in solitary confinement. From the start I maintained that I was innocent and that the police was trying to frame me. I was sentenced to death on December 18, 2002. It is true that the Delhi High Court acquitted me. And today the Supreme Court has upheld the High Court's decision. Naturally I am happy to be free man but I do not think an acquittal of an innocent man is a cause for celebration. I think it is a time for reflection on why he was framed and sentenced to death without evidence.
I would like to use this occasion to reflect on my experiences and share my thoughts on why I was framed. I am a teacher by profession and it is the job of a teacher to always reflect on his experience and draw the right lessons from his experience, without anger or bitterness. That is what my statement seeks to do.
The Kashmir Question
I am a Kashmiri. I have grown up surrounded by the awesome beauty of the snow-clad mountains and the magnificent Chinar trees. However, when i think of the Valley, it is not the beauty that I remember. My life, like the lives of other Kashmiri people, has been inextricably linked to the conflict that has torn apart our land. I have seen young men with broken bones and marks of torture buried by grieving parents. I have seen the pain in the eyes of women raped and the anguish of parents who cannot save their small children from hurt. I have seen my own children growing up with nightmares instead of dreams.
I do not write these words with any bitterness. I have no personal animus against any of the policemen, judges or jail authorities that have been the cause of my suffering. I believe they are all part of the system that has been responsible for the pain and grief of many Kashmiris. I have not suffered any more than other Kashmiri men have in my generation. I was illegally arrested and tortured. So have many other thousands of Kashmiri men. I was framed in a false case. This is true for so many other Kashmiris who are even now languishing in the same jail that I was lodged. I have been on death row for less than a year but there has been an attempt on my life. I am lucky because I have survived but so many Kashmiris have been killed in false encounters even in Delhi, the capital of democratic India.
My experience has given me an opportunity to see closely the working of Indian democracy and its institutions. And I think the rise of communal-fascist forces along with the so-called war against terrorism has seriously undermined the basic foundations of Indian democracy.
On the day I was released from the jail and I addressed my first media conference I said that I believe there can be no lasting peace in this region unless the Kashmir question is resolved. And the resolution to the conflict can only be achieved through political negotiations. My statement angered many people, even those who are known for their commitment to democratic values. My supporters and I were called "Spoilers of the peace process". The writer seemed to imply that my speaking of Kashmir would endanger the Indo-Pakistan peace process.
I do not understand why he should apprehend this. Kashmiris want that Indo-Pakistan friendship because without that there can be no real development of Kashmir. But the pre-requisite to this is that both India and Pakistan take into account the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmiri people's movement for self-determination is not a reflection of the wishes of one individual, organization or party. Let us take the example of Sheikh Abdullah, the tallest of the leaders to emerge from Kashmir. He led the movement for years, he was imprisoned and finally he capitulated by signing the agreement in 1975. Fourteen years later, the people of Kashmir once again rose up in revolt against injustice and political dominance.
It is indeed disturbing that even those academics and intellectuals who campaigned for my acquittal felt uncomfortable when I reiterated my stand that there can be no permanent solution to the Indo-Pakistan conflict without taking into account the interests and aspirations of the Kashmiri people.
Role of Intelligence Agencies
You will ask me why I am talking about general issues instead of my own case. The reason is that I cannot look at my experience apart from that of the Kashmiri people. I believe I was framed in the Parliament attack case only because I am a Kashmiri Muslim. And the intelligence agencies had a hand in framing me.
Kashmir question is a political question and it must be resolved through political negotiations, not by intelligence agencies. These intelligence agencies have systematically destroyed the credibility of individuals and organizations through their disinformation campaign through the media and when this does not succeed, they have tried to buy people and if that does not work there have been attempts to eliminate the Kashmiri who does not succumb.
The intelligence agencies have created such a vicious atmosphere that they do not want even the pro-India leadership to have credibility in the eyes of their fellow Kashmiris. They seem to be interested in creating a political chaos so as to enhance their own insidious role.
International human rights organizations have been documenting the extra-judicial executions, false encounters and widespread torture used in Kashmir as a part of State policy. The attempt to break the will of the people through such methods only reflects a bankruptcy of politics and will ultimately harm the democratic foundations of Indian polity.
There have been at least three attempts to eliminate me, twice while I was inside the Tihar jail and once when I was shot on February 8, 2005. There has been no investigation into these attempted crimes. I believe the reason is that all three attempts on my life were engineered by the intelligence agencies. My colleagues, lawyers and supporters all have expressed the same fear and they even held a demonstration outside the Police headquarters on February 9, 2005. However, there is no mechanism to hold the intelligence agencies accountable to the people.
Role of the Police and Judiciary
I have had an opportunity to closely see the workings of the courts and the police. What is most disturbing is that when the police violates procedures and even guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court the trial is held legal. For instance, the police forged my arrest memo and told lies on oath about my arrest. I was denied access to a lawyer, and almost all safeguards with regard to arrests and detention were flagrantly violated. Even my two small children were arrested and detained for several days. Senior advocates have expressed their concern about the way the basic principles of criminal justice system have been sabotaged.
It is true that the Delhi High Court acquitted me but the judgement did not pass any strictures on the lower court judge. The High Court observed that the police had forged documents and fabricated evidence but did not punish them for framing an innocent man. I know many of the people from the University community were very unhappy with me because I criticized the judiciary on my release. And today when I stand acquitted by the Supreme Court they would perhaps advise me to acknowledge the fact that the Indian judiciary is independent. I have not yet read the Supreme Court judgement so I do not know what the judgement has to say about the police, the sessions judge or the prosecution.
Kashmiri Prisoners and Detainees
But the fact remains that there are many Kashmiri prisoners in various jails all over India. I know many of the prisoners in Tihar jail have been framed. Some of them have not been given a chargesheet, while others are waiting for several years for their trials to begin and almost none of them have the benefit of competent legal advice. I believe my co-accused Mohammad Afzal also did not have proper legal assistance. How can a man be condemned to death or life imprisonment without being satisfied that he had been given a fair trial? Who will compensate for the trauma suffered by Afsan Guru who had to give birth to her first baby in jail? Her acquittal after two years of jail cannot bring back her dream of having a home and a family. Her husband will languish in jail, the son will live without his parents and we can only imagine how the child will cope as he grows up.
There are so many young Kashmiri students who are in jail and are released without even a chargesheet being filed against them. They cannot go back to the educational institutions after their release. Their hopes of a professional career shattered.
Role of the Media
I believe the media has a crucial role to play in protecting and preserving democratic institutions. Unfortunately my experience has shown that the media is no longer free. I do not know how far this is a reflection of self-censorship or a reflection of corporatization.
I believe the media is to a large extent responsible for the sufferings of the people of Kashmir. They have built an image of the Kashmiri Muslim has become synonymous with terrorists. It was with the help of the media that the police were able to carry out a pernicious campaign against me in the first few days after my arrest. Zee television made a film which made allegations against me that even the police have not made in the court.
Even after there was an attempt to assassinate me, the media attacked me for not giving my statement to the police. At that time, I was lying with various tubes stuck in my body, my wounds not stitched and I had not yet drunk water. On the pretext that I was purposely delaying giving my statement and my doctors were not co-operating, the Delhi Administration appointed another doctor's team which included a policeman to examine me again. And I was subjected to humiliating examination even though the AIIMS doctors had made it clear that I was not in a fit condition to make a statement.
After I gave my statement to the police stating that I believe that the attack on me was the work of the Special Cell, the police tried to frame me once again. They took away my computer hard disc and sent it to the CFSL Lab in Ahmedabad. I do not know what the CFSL report states but I fear that those who police or intelligence agents who have tried to eliminate me in the past will try to frame me once again. The media has carried more reports on allegations made by the police than tried to find out who was behind the attack on me. Recently, a newspaper carried a story that the attack on me was the handiwork of Chota Rajan and IB.
Instead of attempting to investigate into the reality, the media carried on making allegations against my family members, friends and supporters. I want to ask you, media persons today, do you think that you have been fair to me?
I feel overwhelmed by emotion when I think of the number of men and women who have supported the campaign for my acquittal. Individual teachers, students, civil right activists and many Indian citizens scattered all over the country. I have had very moving letters from many people expressing their warmth, their best wishes and giving me their blessings.
The fact that the Defence Committee could actually break through the wall of prejudice and hate and reach out to people all over the country is a reflection of the fact that there is some democratic space left within which we can work.
A small group of citizens gathered together to defend me and launched an all India campaign for my acquittal. I did not know many of them personally. I believe these men and women fought not only for the civil liberties of an individual but for Indian democracy. Teachers of Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University sent an Open Letter to the Chief Justice of India expressing their concern that I was being denied a fair trial.
As I said, all those who campaigned for my acquittal did so because of their own commitment to democratic values, justice and freedom. But many of those men and women have become my friends and have provided me comfort and love. To each of them individually and to all my friends, supporters and family, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks.
I know many people have hoped and prayed for my acquittal. In Kashmir, the people had a three-day bandh when the Sessions Court sentenced Afzal, Shaukat and me to death. It was a mark of their solidarity with their fellow Kashmiris. And I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome I was given from the people in Baramulla.
I would like to thank the All India Defence Committee for SAR Geelani for their support and solidarity, especially when many of them did not agree with my political stands. The Defence Committee played a crucial role in getting me defence witnesses and reaching out to people all over the country.
I would like to thank the teachers of Delhi University who campaigned for my acquittal and fought the fascist communal forces who were trying to get my services terminated even before the trial had begun. Many of these teachers had to fight their own teachers unions in order to support and campaign for me. The Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) had a one day bandh to protest against the attempt to assassinate me. My warm thanks to my students who stood by me even in the first few days after my arrest. Members of the non teaching staff in my college have been very kind and shown their support in many ways.
I would like to also thank members of the teaching community in other universities who have supported the campaign for my acquittal including Jawaharlal Nehru University, All Bengal University Teachers Union (ABUTA) and teachers in Jamia Milliya Islamia. I would like to especially mention the students who donated their blood when I was shot.
I have not forgotten my friends in Tihar jail who have preserved their humanity in the brutalized world of jails, torture and injustice. Many of them put their own lives in danger to save me from murderous attack, provided me with comfort and solace. I promised to do something for the prisoners and detainees when I was acquitted by the High Court. A group of wonderful friends have helped me keep that promise by forming ourselves into a registered Society for the Protection of Detainees and Prisoners' Rights (SPDPR).
I would not be acquitted if it had not been for my lawyers, Mr Ram Jethmalani, Kamini Jaiswal and N D Pancholi. I would not be alive had it not been for the doctors and medical staff of AIIMS.
I would like to express my special thanks to my friend and colleague Kumar Sanjay Singh, my lawyer Nandita Haksar and her husband Sebastian Hongray for their friendship, love and solidarity.
I have been lucky because my family members have stood by me. My two children, Nusrat and Aatif have kept up my morale in the days I was in solitary confinement. The only way I can effectively protect them is to dedicate my life to fighting for the cause of truth, justice and democracy so that we can together work towards building a better world.
Sayed Abdul Rahman Geelani
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