The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Zahira puts hand out for mercy
- Bakery witness sorry, asks for cut in jail term

New Delhi, March 20: Best Bakery witness Zahira Sheikh today moved the Supreme Court seeking reduction of the one-year jail term it awarded her for contempt of court.

Tendering an “unconditional apology” for the acts of omission by her and her family, Zahira requested the apex court to reduce the one-year term to a “period already undergone” and exempt her from paying the Rs 50,000 fine that was slapped on her.

Zahira, who has been in police custody since March 10, said she inadvertently committed mistakes on account of her illiteracy and poverty.

She said she was a “victim of circumstances” and prayed for “justice blended with mercy”.

Her application is likely to be mentioned before the court tomorrow.

The Best Bakery witness, who surrendered in Mumbai two days after being sentenced by the apex court, denied having received any money. She pointed out that her elder brother Nafitullah had died on March 2 due to want of medical aid. Nafitullah, a ragpicker, was the only earning member of her family, Zahira said, adding that she had no means to pay the fine of Rs 50,000.

Her father had died a month before the Best Bakery carnage on March 1, 2002, leaving behind five children. Politicians had exploited the family’s emotions and religious sentiments during elections, Zahira alleged.

Although the belongings of the family were burnt in the bakery carnage, the government did not provide any substantial aid, she said.

The bench of Justices Arijit Passayat and H.K. Sema that sentenced Zahira after accepting the report by a high-powered committee will hear her plea this time.

Writing the judgment for the bench, Justice Passayat had called Zahira a “self-condemned liar”. He said the criminal justice system would be affected if persons like Zahira go unpunished.

A Mumbai special court that conducted the bakery retrial, has already issued a notice to Zahira for perjury.

The trial court today extended the deadline for reply to the notices that were served on the bakery case witness and her family.

It also extended Zahira’s stay in police custody till the same date.

Zahira and her brother Nasibullah were present in court today and pleaded that they had not seen the judgment.

The verdict delivered on February 24 convicted nine persons for the carnage.

The special court is still waiting for clarification from the Supreme Court on where Zahira should serve her prison term.

She recently did another volte face, saying she wanted to return to Gujarat. Earlier, she had said she wanted to stay in Maharashtra for security reasons.

The proceedings in the Mumbai court will continue as the apex court had sentenced her for contempt of court and not perjury.

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