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7/11 suspects declare no-trust in judge

Mumbai, Aug. 6: The Mumbai train blasts trial started today and was immediately stalled, with the accused shouting across the courtroom that they didn’t trust the judge.

Asif Khan alias Junaid, one of the 13 arrested after the July 11 bombings last year, cut in as judge Mridula Bhatkar began reading out the charges.

“I have no faith in this court. I am not guilty,” Khan said in Hindi.

Co-accused Sajid Ansari immediately picked up the refrain, and Faisal Sheikh screamed: “You don’t listen to us. You listen only to the ATS (anti-terrorist squad).”

The scenes almost paralleled those seen a few days ago at the ’93 blasts trial court, but they had come at the end of the 14-year case, with the convicts protesting their sentences.

Today, the 7/11 accused were demanding the case be transferred from the special court, set up under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).

Bhatkar agreed to send the applications to principal sessions judge Ashok Bhangale and adjourned the proceedings till tomorrow.

The trial was to formally start today, after a month’s delay, with charges framed against those accused of carrying out the seven blasts that killed nearly 200 and injured hundreds more on commuter trains.

When Bhatkar asked the accused to stand in the witness box, Ehtesham Siddiqui said: “We will not sit in the dock. We are not guilty.”

Naved Hussain Khan, whose alleged confession before a video camera had earlier been aired by news channels, said he wanted to be an approver but would like to know what had become of the probe ordered into the CD leak.

The charge-sheet, which runs into more than 10,000 pages, makes conspiracy charges against the 13 people arrested and 15 other accused, who include Lashkar-e-Toiba commander Azam Cheema. Altogether, there are 32 charges under the Indian Penal Code, MCOCA and other laws.

As the accused raised a ruckus in the fourth-floor courtroom, defence counsel Sudeep Pasbola said their applications for a transfer of the case should be sent to the principal sessions judge.

Advocate Rizwan Merchant, the amicus curiae (friend of the court), suggested the proceedings be put on hold till the principal judge had decided the matter. Special public prosecutor Raja Thakre disagreed.

Defence lawyer Shahid Azmi said some of the ’93 blasts accused, too, had expressed a lack of faith in judge J.N. Patel, the first of the two judges to try the case.

Farhana Shah, who represents Sohail Sheikh in this case and was Sanjay Dutt’s counsel in the Bombay blasts trial, recalled that some of the defence lawyers, too, had signed the applications by the accused against Patel’s court. An angry Patel had threatened them with contempt of court.

Patel had presided over the case when the trial began in 1995 but after his elevation to Bombay High Court the following year, the case had passed to Pramod Kode.

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