The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zahira behind secrecy shroud
- Residents question why NHRC twiddled thumbs till Bakery carnage witness spoke up

Mumbai, July 8: A pall of secrecy surrounds Zahira Sheikh today.

Zahira, who created a sensation yesterday by saying that she had lied in court as the main witness in the Best Bakery case due to political pressure, has been hidden from the world’s prying eyes for the sake of her security. “No one will know where she is,” says Javed Anand, adding that is how they will ensure her security.

“She will not meet the press because of security reasons,” echoes poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar, who stood by the side of the 19-year-old yesterday as she asked for a retrial.

Anand, who with his activist wife Teesta Setalvad was instrumental in making Zahira come out of hiding, said their NGO, Citizens for Peace and Justice, will move Gujarat High Court within a week with an appeal against the judgment of the sessions court in Vadodara that acquitted the 21 accused in the Best Bakery case.

“We will have to appeal to the high court,” said lawyer- activist Mihir Desai of Citizens for Peace and Justice. “In the petition we will ask for a retrial.”

If the appeal for a retrial is granted, then the NGO will ask for a court certainly outside Vadodara, and preferably outside Gujarat, where the case can be heard.

“We would also like it if the retrial is not held in a state that has a BJP government,” said Desai.

Zahira is now in the city with her mother, who also has stated that there was pressure on them as witnesses. One of her brothers, who was very badly burnt, is also in the city undergoing treatment. Another of her brothers is recovering from a sword slash on his neck.

Her security is top priority with her friends, but next on the list is the question of her rehabilitation. “We are working on that,” said Desai.

On March 1 last year, following the Godhra carnage, 14 persons, 12 of them Muslims, were burnt alive in the bakery owned by Zahira’s father.

Nine of them were Zahira’s relatives.

“Zahira was on the terrace and she saw everything,” said Anand.

She deposed before various commissions that she knew the killers and was the main witness in the case, but turned hostile in the court.

Yesterday, Zahira said she had retracted her statement under pressure from Madhu Srivastava, a local BJP MLA.

Of the 73 witnesses, 39 turned hostile in court following which the judge acquitted the accused on the ground of lack of evidence.

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