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Law clouds riot relief

New Delhi, April 28: Voices opposing the stringent anti-terror legislation are growing stronger with the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, an NGO, being the latest to join the chorus.

The NGO has alleged that liberal and secular Muslims involved in voluntary relief work after the Godhra carnage are scared of being falsely implicated under the law.

Work in various relief camps in Godhra has been completely paralysed, a fact-finding team of the NGO that has recently returned from Gujarat, said. Lack of any government support to restore people’s confidence in the state machinery has made things worse, the organisation’s secretary, Ujjwal Singh, said at a news conference today.

The anti-terror Act has been slapped against 124 people — including 16-year-olds Firoz Sikandar Khan, Hasan Wahid Khan Pathan and Haroun Ilyas — in the Sabarmati Express massacre case, the NGO said.

In Gujarat, the NGO members visited the families of the accused to find out the impact the Act has had on them. The team, which spoke to the family members of nearly 20 accused besides lawyers, social workers and media personalities, said they are devastated.

“The team found a traumatised and silenced Muslim community. Most terrified are the middle-class or professionals, who in the absence of any state support to victims of the post-Godhra carnage, had tirelessly worked to restore and rehabilitate them,” it said.

The strict conditions of bail has been troubling most of the accused.

Citing an incident of gross misuse of the Act, Swati Joshi, who was part of the fact-finding team, said the prosecution had booked a government employee under the law on the grounds that he was pelting stones during the riots. However, this was far from the truth, she said, adding that the accused had produced official records showing he was in office at the time.

Joshi challenged the BJP government’s decision to invoke the Act, saying it was an afterthought and had been done at the behest of the Sangh parivar, especially the VHP and the Bajrang Dal. She said the prosecution had first applied the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. However, it was not withdrawn, as the public was made to believe, but was kept in abeyance so that it could be used at the right time, Joshi alleged.

To corroborate her point, she quoted deputy superintendent of police (western railway) K.C. Babba’s March 25, 2002, communiqué to judicial magistrate in Gujarati. The letter, according to her, states that owing to the absence of an ideal situation, the Ordinance should be deferred.

The team also alleged that the arrest of Maula Umarji, a clergyman involved in relief work, was a sham and it was politically motivated.

The NGO has urged people to come forward and provide support to the family members of the accused.

It has also demanded that the government ensure fair trial to the accused and repeal the Act as it is detrimental to the principle of rule of law.

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