Home Judiciary ‘ISIS is like Raktabeej’: Argument in UP court that handed death penalty...

‘ISIS is like Raktabeej’: Argument in UP court that handed death penalty to Gorakhpur attacker

Ahmad Murtaza Abbasi's mother had filed an application last year claiming her son was 'mentally ill' & couldn't understand the nature of the attack. The court rejected the argument.

Representational image for the judiciary | Photo: Commons
Representational image | Photo: Commons

New Delhi: ISIS goals lifted from Wikipedia, accused’s ‘intention to humiliate Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’, prosecutor’s argument that “ISIS is like Raktbeej (a multiplying demon)”, and an email account called “sixthmugal@gmail.com” — a Lucknow court relied on all these reasonings to award the death penalty to 31-year-old IIT-Bombay graduate Ahmad Murtaza Abbasi for his attack on policemen at the Gorakhnath temple in Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur district last year.

In doing so, Special Judge, NIA/ATS, Vivekanand Sharan Tripathi rejected his claims that he was “mentally ill”, and refused to award a lesser sentence, even though there was no death in the incident. The order was issued on 30 January.

The FIR in the case was registered by Vinay Kumar Mishra, one of the security personnels at the temple. He claimed that on 3 April last year, at around 7pm, he had seen Abbasi attacking Uttar Pradesh Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) personnel stationed outside the temple using a “baanka” (sharp-edged weapon).

He alleged that Abbasi tried to forcibly enter the Gorakhnath temple premises “raising slogans of Allahu-Akbar (Allah is the greatest)”, and attacked the security personnel deployed there with the weapon. He alleged that Abbasi was also trying to snatch one of the personnel’s rifle, and injured two security personnel.

The prosecution alleged that Abbasi was influenced by the ideology of SIS and had challenged the unity and integrity of India by waging war against the government of India. It added that this was done in the form of a “lone wolf attack”.

During the hearing, public prosecutor Nagendra Goswami took the court through the history of ISIS and said that since ISIS was weakened in 2017, it now resorts to such lone wolf attacks through terrorists associated with its group.

While the public prosecutor explained that ISIS was like ‘Raktbeej’ (a demon with the ability to multiply whenever his blood drops on the ground), Tripathi asserted that even though nobody was killed in the incident, the attack was done to humiliate CM Adityanath at a national and international level.

Gorakhnath Temple is the headquarters of the Gorakhnath mutt, of which CM Adityanath is the head priest. The court said the attack was Abbasi’s “personal contribution” towards implementing ISIS ideology, and that he attacked “the residence of the chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh” by choosing it as a symbol.

Abbasi was then convicted under Sections 121 (attempting to wage war), 307 (attempt to murder), 153A (committing offence in place of worship), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 333 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty) and 394 (voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC); along with Sections 16 (committing a terrorist act), 20 (being member of terrorist gang or organisation) and 40 (raising fund for a terrorist organisation) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act; and Section 4 (licence for acquisition and possession of arms) of the Arms Act.

While he was awarded different jail terms in the other crimes, he was given the death sentence under Section 121 of the IPC.

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‘I am mentally ill. I am not able to answer’

During the trial, Abbasi’s mother had filed an application in April-May last year, claiming that Abbasi was “mentally ill”, and that is why he did not understand the nature of his act.

She demanded that he should be declared a “lunatic” under Sections 328 (procedure in case of accused being lunatic) and 329 (in case of person of unsound mind tried before court) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), and that he should be given the benefit of Section 84 of the IPC.

Section 84 says that “nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.”

Abbasi’s father, too, had claimed last year that his son was not mentally stable, and had no intention to commit the crime. However, the court rejected this application on 28 November last year, finding that Abbasi understood the nature of his acts at the time of the incident.

According to the Lucknow court order passed last month, after this application was rejected, his family did not provide any legal help to Abbasi. The court then appointed an amicus curiae, Ram Narayan Tiwari, in the case.

Abbasi, too, tried to tell the court that he was “mentally ill” during the trial. However, the court once again rejected this claim citing various reasons. For instance, it observed, “When the charge was read out to the accused, he denied them and demanded a trial, which also confirmed the belief of the court that the accused Ahmed Murtaza Abbasi was not insane or of unsound mind.”

Before the court, Abbasi was asked 205 questions during his examination under Section 313 (power to examine the accused) of the CrPC. However, according to the order, his response to the first 32 questions was, “I don’t remember”. To a few questions, he responded, “I am mentally ill. I am not able to answer”.

A few questions were answered on Abbasi’s behalf by Tiwari, either denying the claim or saying that it was wrong. However, Abbasi requested the court that those answers should also be modified to, “I am mentally ill. I am not able to answer”.

While this request was acceded to, the court drew an adverse inference from it. It observed, “If the accused was a mentally ill patient, he would not have had an objection to the words “I deny”. He wanted those words (I am mentally ill) to be written down because the denial implies that he understands the nature of the questions put to him.”

“Accused Ahmed Murtaza Abbasi, who is a chemical engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, knows the result of answering these questions very well, that’s why he thought it better to write that he is mentally ill, instead of denying it,” the judge added.

Three stages for mental assessment

Dr Anup Surendranath, executive director of Project 39A at the National Law University, Delhi, explained that when there are mental health concerns, the accused can raise an issue on their competence to stand trial, or they could raise an insanity defence during the trial, or these mental health concerns can be taken into account during sentencing.

“All of these three options require very different assessments under the law,” he told ThePrint.

The first objection on the competence to stand trial is filed under Section 328 of the CrPC, claiming that the accused is incompetent to undergo a trial. The court examines whether the accused is in a position, at the time the trial is starting, to understand what is going to happen during the trial. If the court finds that an accused is incompetent to stand trial, they are made to undergo treatment. The authorities then undertake a periodic assessment to check their competence to stand trial.

Insanity defence during the trial relates to the time at which the alleged offence was committed. However, Surendranath explained that the law on the assessment of an insanity defence is not uniformly defined and applied.

“They have to look at expert opinions, among other things…,” he said. “The law requires the court to determine whether the accused knew at that point what he did was wrong. Then a mental health expert needs to assess the accused person’s state of mind…However, it is difficult to make this assessment because it relates back to the time when the offence was allegedly committed.”

At the sentencing stage, the court considers the extent to which a convict’s mental health should be taken into account to determine the punishment that should be awarded to them. The Supreme Court has ruled that “post­ conviction severe mental illness will be a mitigating factor that the appellate Court, in appropriate cases, needs to consider while sentencing an accused to the death penalty.”

Notably, in the past seven years, of a total of around 730 death sentences issued by lower courts in India from 2016, 270 cases pertained to murder involving sexual offences, 394 involved murder only, and 66 involved terror-related offences. However, most of these terror related punishments involved killing of people.

‘ISIS like Raktbeej’

Abbasi graduated from IIT-Bombay in 2015, after pursuing chemical engineering at the premier institute.

The police told the court that Abbasi had allegedly been practicing with an air gun, and that he had attacked the security personnel with the intention that he would snatch their rifle and then kill other personnel with it.

Goswami told the court that “ISIS has become like the Raktbeej rakshas described in Indian mythology, whose representatives like Ahmed Murtaza Abbasi have been attacking in lone wolf style.” The order also referred to the goals of ISIS from its Wikipedia page, to highlight that “ISIS holds views against non-Muslims and those who believe in a democracy to such an extent that it wants to wage war or Jihad to eliminate them.”

The order also noted that Abbasi allegedly told the police he wanted to die for Jihad, and that is why he attacked Gorakhnath temple. He allegedly told them that he chose the temple because it was recognised at an international level and it also became popular after Yogi Adityanath became Uttar Pradesh CM. The prosecution also alleged that Abbasi had donated to foreign terror outfits.

The court highlighted the importance of symbols for a country. It then pointed out that Abbasi’s email account was “sixthmugal@gmail.com”. It explained that the account was named after Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor, who used to destroy the symbols of the community situated in any territory in which his army gained victory.

‘Individual can be sacrificed for society’

Considering the sentence to be awarded to Abbasi, the court order noted that he had not expressed any remorse for what he had done. His lawyer, Tiwari had also tried to persuade the court to consider the fact that Abbasi has a degree from IIT-Bombay and therefore, there is a possibility of him contributing to nation building.

The court, however, refused to accept his being educated as a mitigating factor, citing several examples of convicted terrorists being educated people. It observed, “If a person does not have the resolve to follow the fundamental duties mentioned in Article 51(a) of the Indian Constitution and does not have moral values, then the degree of educational qualification acquired by him only remains as a receipt for payment of fees.”

“It has been a major guiding principle of Indian society that in order to solve the crisis faced by the family, the individual should be sacrificed. In the same way, if it is necessary to sacrifice the family for the benefit of the society, and society for the benefit of the nation, then it should be done,” it added.

Taking note of the mitigating and aggravating circumstances, the court opined that the lone wolf style of attack by Abbasi was one that would cause “long term dangers in the Indian society”.

It asserted that if he was awarded anything lesser than a death sentence, “then many fanatic jihadis who are trained by ISIS, Al Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Taiba etc, and are ready for a lone wolf attack, would consider Ahmed Murtaza Abbasi as their ideals, choose other such iconic landmarks, to challenge the unity and integrity of India”.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

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