New Delhi: Shahbaz Ahmed, 42, had spent nearly 11 years in jail as an undertrial for his alleged involvement in the 2008 Jaipur blasts before he was acquitted in all eight cases against him in December 2019.
However, instead of being released from jail, Ahmed was charged for the ninth time by the Rajasthan Police on the basis of the same evidence that was discarded by the special court that had pronounced him innocent.
Last week, he was finally granted bail and released from jail by the Rajasthan High Court, which also expressed surprise at the fact that the police did not charge him in the ninth case in the 12 years that he spent in prison.
A single-judge bench of Justice Pankaj Bhandari noted that Ahmed languished in jail for 12 years — the judge used the term languish because Ahmed was finally acquitted of all charges — and questioned why he was not arrested in the most recent case earlier.
When the judge put this query to the state’s additional advocate general, the latter was “clueless,” according to the HC order, which has been accessed by ThePrint.
Discarded evidence cited in the 9th case against Shahbaz Ahmed
Nine bombs had exploded at eight locations in Jaipur on 13 May 2008, killing 71 people and injuring 185.
The eight bombs were detonated between 7.20pm and 7.45pm, while the ninth one was diffused by the police. All the bombs, according to the police charge sheet, were strapped to bicycles at the spots, contained ammonium nitrate with ball bearings and were wired to timers.
Immediately after the blasts, an email was sent out to several media houses in which the terror group Indian Mujahideen took responsibility for the incident. According to the police, it was Ahmed who had sent this mail from a cyber café in Sahibabad, Uttar Pradesh. To support this charge, the Rajasthan police had cited the cyber café owner as a witness.
However, on 18 December 2019, a special court acquitted Ahmed but convicted and sentenced four others to death. During his evidence in court, the cyber café owner resiled from his stand of having seen Ahmed in his shop.
But once his family and lawyer reached the prison to facilitate Ahmed’s release, they found out about a ninth case that had been filed against him by the Rajasthan Police.
The jail administration told his lawyers about the arrest in the case only on 25 December 2019.
During Ahmed’s bail hearing in the HC, his lawyers argued that the new charge sheet filed against him was based on discarded evidence and was verbatim to the charge sheets filed in the earlier eight cases against him.
His lawyer Mujahid Ahmad told ThePrint that his trial in the ninth case was against the principles of double jeopardy that bars prosecution of a person twice for the same offence.
An application was filed before the trial court seeking his discharge on this ground in August 2020.
The matter got listed 15 times, but without an effective hearing, and the trial court eventually rejected his bail application prompting him to approach the high court.
The HC’s four-page bail order took note of this argument of double jeopardy and said, “Learned Additional Advocate General was not in a position to appraise the court as to why petitioner has been arrested in the present FIR when he was held not guilty in eight similar FIRs.”
Facing prosecution for allegedly assaulting jail guards
However, the blasts case is not the only one in which Ahmed was arrested when he was in jail. Another FIR was registered against him in March 2019 for allegedly physically assaulting prison guards.
According to Mujahid, Ahmed had written to various human rights organisations against jail authorities, highlighting the inhuman treatment meted out to inmates facing terror charges.
The FIR, therefore, was filed to “teach Shahbaz a lesson”, his lawyer said.
Ahmed was arrested in the case in July 2019 and was granted bail in January this year by the Supreme Court, which noted in its order that it was Ahmed who had received 11 injuries.
Moreover, the SC bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana also ordered the Rajasthan government to conduct a fact-finding survey by a senior IAS officer and take action against the guilty officers. This order was complied with last week.
Mujahid told ThePrint that in his letters to the National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commission, Ahmed had highlighted the discrimination faced by undertrials in terror cases.
In his letters, he asked the district judge to visit the jail once or twice a month to interact with the prisoners and hear out their grievances.
“He was beaten up for raising this demand. Shahbaz had kept the blood-stained clothes in safe custody, but he was not allowed to take them when he came out of jail on 1 March. We have now moved an application seeking a direction to preserve the clothes since they would be needed for the fact-finding enquiry,” Mujahid told ThePrint.