Ishrat encounter was staged: SIT

The girl's family rejoiced after the special panel told the court that the teen was killed in a fake encounter and ordered for a fresh FIR in the case

Over seven years after college girl Ishrat Jahan and her three friends were killed and passed off as militants, court-appointed investigators have concluded that they were murdered by the state police in a staged shootout.

Down with modi: Anwar Jahan, brother of slain Ishrat Jahan, burns a
photograph of Gujarat CM Narendra Modi with NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad
after a SIT panel said that Jahan was killed in a fake encounter

The conclusion by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) deals a huge setback to the Gujarat government and also vindicates the stand long maintained by activists and families of the dead.

Following the SIT report on the 2004 killings, the Gujarat High Court's division bench of Justice Jayant Patel and Justice Abhilasha Kumari yesterday ordered a fresh FIR against the accused police officers for the murders under Section 302 that recommends death penalty.

What lies ahead
The court-appointed SIT, headed by police officer RR Verma, said that Jahan, a 19-year-old girl from Mumbai, Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed earlier than the shootout date of June 15, 2004.

They were shot dead on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in a private car. Police claimed that they were linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terror outfit and were going to assassinate Gujarat CM Narendra Modi.

A total of 21 policemen, including four Indian Police Service officers were involved in the staged shootout.

The court is now to decide which agency will conduct further probe into the case. It sought suggestions from petitioners and the state government on whether to entrust the job to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

"The probe agency needs to find out who played the key role in the encounter... what was the motive and what was the actual time of the death of the four people," the court said.

Relief at last
The SIT report gave relief to Jahan's family, who called it a "victory because it washed away the terror blot police had stamped on us".

"She was innocent when she was alive, she was innocent when her body was brought to us. It is our victory," said her uncle Rauf Lala.

Her mother Shamima Kausar thanked the court but said the justice was still awaited till the culprits were punished.

"They should be hanged. They have ruined our lives. They killed my innocent daughter. We have always said that she was innocent. The truth has finally come out," said a choking Kausar.

Feel vindicated
Human rights activists and lawyers also hailed the SIT conclusion and sought public apology from police and the media for tarnishing the image of the family and the young college girl with a terror tag.

"They made their life hell. The family stands vindicated. They killed and tarnished the image of a young girl and her family. They should apologise publicly," lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover shouted outside the court.

In Alappuzha, Kerala, Gopinathan Pillai, the father of Pranesh Kumar Pillai alias Javed Shaikh, said he was a much relieved man now that the SIT report said the shootout was not genuine.

Gopinathan Pillai had sought an inquiry by an SIT.

"I am a much relieved person because with this none will accuse me as the father of a terrorist," Pillai told the media.

RB Sreekumar, the former Gujarat police chief who accused the state government of authorising the killing of Muslims during sectarian riots in 2002, said the truth has finally come out. "The truth has prevailed" he said in his reaction to the SIT report.

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