After a struggle lasting more than a decade, a Kashmiri man who was arrested in 2010 under India’s draconian anti-terror laws has been cleared of all charges and finally returned home.
Bashir Ahmad Baba, a 44-year-old social worker from Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested in the western state of Gujarat after he travelled to Vadodara city for a workshop. He was associated with a non-government organisation that conducted medical camps, especially for children with cleft palates, the Indian news website Newsclick reported.
A month into his stay in Gujarat, Mr Baba was arrested by an anti-terrorism squad and accused of working for the Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen to establish a “terror training” network for young Gujaratis.
Mr Baba was arrested under UAPA or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a highly debated and controversial piece of legislation in India that allows the authorities to arrest suspects for up to 180 days without charge. The act, which was largely envisaged as an anti-terror law, was further strengthened by the Narendra Modi government in 2019.
Mr Baba’s lawyers argued for over a decade that he was only in Gujarat to attend a camp on post-cancer care, so that he could better serve patients upon his return to the Kashmir Valley.
The Gujarat Police, however, claimed he was in touch with the chief of the terror group by phone during his stay.
“The ATS (anti-terrorism squad) contended that Ahmad had used the laptop of the doctor whose camp he was attending to send emails to his Hizbul handlers in Pakistan,” Khalid Shaikh, Mr Baba’s lawyer, told The Indian Express. “They also said he was seen making suspicious phone calls and leaving the camp multiple times in the day on the pretext of having meals or offering prayers.”
After a decade, an additional sessions court in Gujarat’s Anand district pronounced its verdict that law enforcement agencies had failed to provide any evidence to prove Mr Baba stayed back in the state to set up a “terror network”, or that he received any financial aid for the alleged crime.
“The prosecution has also failed to establish any evidence to prove that he was in touch with the wanted Hizbul Mujahideen commanders,” the court said in its order.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mr Baba said he never lost hope of being acquitted. “I knew I would be released honourably one day,” he said.
He said that despite losing many precious years and a number of family members who died while he was in jail, he never gave up hope of acquittal and completed three masters degrees during his time behind bars.
“I spent most of my time in jail studying,” he said. “I was sure that one day I will be proven innocent and will be released.”