Amongst the four witnesses that the court heard yesterday, was 13/7 Mumbai blasts accused Nadeem Akhtar, who told the court how one of the convicts had helped him and many others in jail
Continuing to present arguments for lenient sentencing for the accused in the 11/7 train blasts case, the defence yesterday pulled an unusual move by calling an accused from a different terror attack to testify on behalf of one of the defendants.
On Tuesday, the Special MCOCA court heard from four witnesses who sought to persuade the court of mitigating circumstances or reasons why the defendants should be spared the death sentence. While three of the witnesses were family members of the convicted terrorists, the fourth was 13/7 Mumbai blasts accused Nadeem Akhtar.
Testifying for 11/7 convict Ehtesham Siddiqui, Akhtar told the court, “Ehtesham is not my relative. We met in jail. Ehtesham helped me to write letters in jail and I was surprised to find such help even in prison. He also advised me to study; he told me to take admission at the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
He would speak to me regarding Mahatma Gandhi. Around 25 to 30 jail mates took admission in courses because of Ehtesham. He never had any quarrels with anyone in jail.” During cross-examination, Special Prosecutor Raja Thakare asked Akhtar whether he was deposing in court out of sympathy for Ehtesham, to which he replied, “I am speaking about whatever I witnessed.”
Before hearing from Akhtar, the court first heard from defendant Asif Khan’s younger brother. “Asif is my elder brother. He has a diploma in Civil Engineering. He would attend all the lectures in college and took care of his family as well. He tried to do good for society, and would help people out whenever he could.
He is a peaceful person and he taught me to be a law-abiding person,” he stated on being questioned by the defence advocate Wahab Khan. “After his arrest in the blasts case, his kids were removed from school. Our relatives stopped visiting us. People in our locality have not been good to us since my brother was arrested in this big case,” he added.
During cross-examination, he said, “Whenever we met in jail and in court, he would ask me about the family. He used to tell me everything. My brother is accused of the Malegaon 2006 blasts, the 11/7 train blasts and two other cases at Jalgaon. Since 2001, he was in Mumbai and I only came to know about his arrest when the Jalgaon police brought him there for custody. I am here to tell truth about my brother.”
Second to be deposed was the brother of Dr Tanvir Ahmed Ansari. “In school days, he shared good relations with everyone. He got several job offers from hospitals but he refused them all and worked with a charitable hospital instead. He is a law-abiding citizen. His wife was pregnant when he was arrested.
Our family knows that he could not have done anything like this. Before this, none of the family members had ever seen the inside of a jail. Since his arrest, even I have not been able to find any job,” he testified. He also told the prosecution that Dr Ansari had once been arrested for being a member of SIMI and was held in jail for a fortnight.
The third to depose was the wife of Mohammad Majid Shafi. He broke down upon seeing her in court. During her examination by the defence, she said, “I have known him since before our marriage. He is very helpful and mild-mannered. He has never had a dispute with anyone.
My husband has become very kind in these nine years. Our family is not well to do. After my husband’s arrest, we went through financial problems. People in our locality were also not good to us. Both my kidneys have failed and I am now undergoing treatment with the help of an NGO.”
These are circumstances that may be considered by a court while determining culpability of a defendant or the extent of damages to be awarded to a plaintiff. While these arguments do not justify or excuse an offence, they may reduce the severity of a charge.