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HC rejects confession proof against co-accused

New Delhi, Oct. 31: The Delhi High Court judgment in the Parliament attack case is significant in more ways than one. Apart from overturning the sentences on S.A.R. Geelani and the wife of a convict, it held that the confessional statement of an accused cannot be used as evidence against a co-accused.

This is the first interpretation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act’s controversial Section 32, which says the confessional statement of an accused given before a police officer not below the rank of superintendent of police is admissible as evidence in courts. But it does not clarify whether the statement can be used as evidence against another accused in the same case.

In the absence of this clarification, the prosecution often uses this proviso to admit as evidence a statement of an accused against a co-accused.

The division bench of Justices Usha Mehra and Pradeep Nandrajog in its 392-page judgment on Tuesday cleared the ambiguity by ruling out this possibility.

The prosecution had argued in the high court that the confessional statement of an accused can be used as evidence against a co-accused. Mohammed Afzal and Shaukat Hussain, the two Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists whose death sentences were upheld, had named Geelani in their confessions. However, the high court found no evidence to establish Geelani’s role in the December 13, 2001, Parliament attack.

“While enacting Pota, the legislature, if it wanted to make the confession of a co-accused admissible against the other co-accused, to our mind would have made a specific reference to this effect,” the judges said in their ruling.

The anti-terror law’s earlier version, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, had a specific section making it legal, a provision that was misused by the police to book other persons merely on the basis of a statement.

Suspended Delhi University Arabic lecturer Geelani, who was acquitted, was also critical of the stringent anti-terrorism law. “Democratic societies do not have place for Pota,” he told reporters, hours after his release from Tihar Jail yesterday.

The entire controversy awaits the final verdict of the Supreme Court, which has reserved its judgment on the constitutional validity of the anti-terrorism act.

A batch of petitions, including those by human rights and civil liberties organisations like the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, have said the law violates human rights.

Along with provisions on confessional statements, other sections criticised as draconian are “speech and expression” in favour of an organisation declared “unlawful” and banned. MDMK leader Vaiko has been in jail for over a year for his reported public speech supporting the banned LTTE. He, too, has challenged Section 21 of the anti-terrorism act, that enables a state to arrest a person for such speeches, in the apex court.

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