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Lecturer taken off death row

New Delhi, Oct. 29: Delhi High Court today overturned a death sentence against a college lecturer and a jail term on a housewife in the Parliament attack case, dealing a humiliating blow to the security establishment.

The court acquitted the Delhi University Arabic lecturer, S.A.R. Geelani, on grounds of lack of evidence, saying there was no proof of his alleged telephone conversations with the five militants who carried out the December 2001 strike or to substantiate his role in it.

But the death sentence on two others accused of abetting the attackers — Mohammed Afzal and Shaukat Hussain — was upheld for waging war against the nation.

The acquittals come as a slap in the face of Delhi police, which had claimed that Geelani had links with the Pakistani terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad. The Parliament attack had taken India and Pakistan to the brink of war. The convictions were also the first under the new anti-terrorism law.

The high court bench of Justices Usha Mehra and Pradeep Nandrajog said Geelani’s phone conversation with Shaukat alone was not sufficient to convict the lecturer.

“There is no evidence of Geelani being in telephonic touch with any of the terrorists. There is no evidence that Geelani was instrumental in procuring the hideouts or the chemicals used for manufacture of explosives. There is no evidence of Geelani’s involvement in procuring arms and ammunitions,” the court said. The five who took part in the attack were shot dead during the raid.

Special judge S.. Dhingra had on December 18 last year handed Geelani and the duo death under IPC Section 121 a (collecting arms with the intention to wage war against the nation).

Shaukat’s wife Navjot Sandhu, who had been given five years in jail on grounds of concealing the conspiracy, was absolved. “She was admittedly a housewife…. Merely because some meetings took place…in the house would not be sufficient by itself to impute knowledge to her.”

The court said the prosecution “has brought home its case of conspiracy against accused Mohd Afzal and accused Shaukat, but has failed to prove the case against accused S.A.R. Geelani and Navjot”.

On the prosecution evidence that Shaukat had called Geelani first after buying a cellphone, the court said: “What other number would one connect other than that of a known person.”

Delhi police are expected to challenge the acquittals. Commissioner R.S. Gupta said the earlier convictions had taken place “on the basis of a very good investigation”.

Rights activists, who had said Geelani’s conviction was based on flimsy circumstantial evidence, hailed the acquittal.

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