Thursday, July 31, 2008

Zahida’s anxious walk to freedom

I was accused of assisting Fidayeen attack on Cong rally, I came to know about charges in Court room’

When the District and Sessions Judge Srinagar ordered release of a detainee, Zahida, in an open court here on Wednesday, her daughters and other family members were on tenterhooks. They apprehended she would be arrested again, and their fears were not unfounded. In the past police has arrested thousands of political prisoners soon after their release outside the court, to be imprisoned again for some other charges. Zahida’s lawyer Muhammad Abdullah Pandit was more aware than anyone else about the whole game. He asked a policewoman to unlock Zahida’s cuffs. She obeyed. He asked Zahida to come along, warning people to stay away and not to follow him. Zahida’s family, policemen in uniform and civvies, lawyers and journalists, watched.
Zahida had been taken away, this time not by the security agencies, but by her lawyer. In the past 20 years it was one of the few instances when a detainee, about to be re-arrested, walked to his or her freedom outside the court.
“The lawyer has taken her to a safe place,” said advocate Urfi, who assisted senior lawyers pleading Zahida’s case.
Zahida, 50, was brought to the court from central jail in the morning. “I was very reluctant to come. I thought the court would order my release and the personnel of CIK (Counter Intelligence Kashmir) would re-arrest me and take me to police station. I have kidney and heart ailment; I am dying; I don’t want to be taken to police station again,” Zahida told this correspondent when she was waiting for the court ruling.
She said police arrested her in July 2006 from her home. “We had gone to attend a marriage ceremony. There we were told that police is looking for us,” she said.
Police arrested the entire family upon reaching home. Her husband, two daughters, and son were released after some days but she was detained in police station Rambagh.
“Then I was shifted to central jail Srinagar where I was asked to sign some papers, and I signed,” she said. She had signed the Preventive Detention Order passed by the district magistrate under the Public Safety Act, the infamous Act under which a person can be jailed for two years without a trial, often on flimsy grounds.
“In jail,” she said, “I was wondering why I have been jailed. During trial I came to know in the court room that I have been booked for Section 302, which means a murder charge,” she said.
Her family moved to the High Court through senior counsel Mian Abdul Qayoom. The Court quashed the order. “I was released outside gate of centre jail and arrested again minutes after the release,” she said.
She was then detained at Kothibagh for a month.
The state then again booked her under the PSA charging her with assisting a suicide attack on Congress rally in Lal Chowk in 2006. The family again filed a plea in High Court, which quashed the detention order. She was released outside the central jail where CIK cops arrested her again. On June 23, she was booked under PSA. The High Court quashed the order but state slapped another detention order under PSA. The court quashed the order third time.
Her lawyers sought her release on bail, which was granted by the court. She was asked to submit bail bonds, which she did.
Today the lawyers had suspended work citing human rights abuses by the state as the reason for strike. But the president of Bar Association Nazir Ahmad Ronga and Muhammad Abdullah Pandit attended her case.
“When the bail bonds have been attested by the Court, the High Court has ordered her detention, and the superintendent jail says she is not required in any other case, the Court has no option but to release her,” argued Ronga and Pandit. They argued that police officials or any government prosecutor has filed application for her continued detention.
The superintendent police central jail was present in person before the court during the hearing.
After the court ruling, Zahida was apprehensive. “If they will arrest me again, I will die this time. I can’t survive in police station,” said Zahida. “I am ill and I have not seen my younger son for past one year. He has developed fear psychosis and he didn’t come to meet me in the jail,” she said.
Zahida’s detention has devastated the family. They sold their house and her daughters and her son gave up education. They are living in a rented house presently.
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