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Zahira sister & allies get security, at last

Ahmedabad, Sept. 16: The Gujarat government has provided police protection to a high court advocate and a social activist nearly a month after they sought security cover.

Advocate Suhel Tirmizi and activist Raees Khan Pathan had sought protection after receiving threat calls for helping Zahira Sheikh, the key witness in the Best Bakery case.

The duo, who feared a “serious threat to their lives”, was denied protection, forcing them to hire private security.

But following last Friday’s Supreme Court indictment for failing to protect the weak and prosecute the guilty, the Narendra Modi government has belatedly provided Tirmizi and Pathan some cover.

The apex court said the Modi regime’s appeal in the Best Bakery case and in other riot cases was an “eyewash” and directed the chief secretary and the director-general of police to be present in court on Friday.

The walloping is believed to have prompted the government to provide security not only to Tirmizi and Pathan, who represents a city-based NGO, Citizens for Justice and Peace, but even Zahira’s elder sister, Sahera, and her husband Abdul Kalamuddin.

Protection has been provided to Sahera and Abdul even though they did not ask for any cover. Vadodara police commissioner Sudhir Sinha yesterday posted six commandos outside Sahera’s house. Sahera is Zahira’s only relative still living in the city.

Sinha admitted that Sahera had refused police protection, but said the cover was provided because she is reportedly being harassed by journalists and relatives making inquiries about her sister and mother, who have shifted to Mumbai.

But sources said the protection is being provided because Sahera is reportedly planning to move to Mumbai herself.

The Modi government fears that if the entire Sheikh family leaves the state, it would send out the wrong message.

The sources said the idea is to keep Sahera and her family from moving out. But the police chief denied this, saying: “It is not my brief to stop any free citizen from moving anywhere in the country.’’

Zahira is the key witness to the March 1, 2002, incident in which 14 people were burnt in front of the Vadodara bakery owned by her father. All 21 accused were freed after most witnesses, including Zahira, turned hostile.

But Zahira later said she had been pressured by BJP MLA Madhu Srivastava to lie in court and turned to the National Human Rights Commission for help to reopen the case. A special leave petition was filed on behalf of Zahira and others by Citizens for Justice and Peace, to which Pathan belongs.

But home minister Amit Shah insisted that the government was always willing to provide protection to witnesses.

Tirmizi and Pathan are not impressed by the government’s move. “Why is it that the state government has woken up only after the apex court’s scathing observations about the Gujarat government'’’ they asked.

The duo said they had sought police cover “since we were receiving threatening calls for pursuing the Best Bakery case and assisting Zahira Sheikh. Why is it that the government has acted only now'

Perhaps the top Gujarat government officials will answer this question in the Supreme Court (on Friday),” they said.

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