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Suspects in bombings win damages for torture

Andhra Pradesh cabinet minister admits 21 young Muslim men were abused by police during their long and wrongful detention.

People paying tribute to the victims of a bombing a few days after the attack in Hyderabad, India, in 2007.
People paying tribute to the victims of a bombing a few days after the attack in Hyderabad, India, in 2007.

KOLKATA // Twenty-one Muslim men who claim they were tortured in custody after being arrested in connection to three terror attacks but were later found innocent, are to receive compensation from a state government. The government of the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Sunday awarded 30,000 rupees (Dh2,320) and an auto-rickshaw to each of the detainees, an amount that has been criticised as too small by human rights campaigners.

The men, aged from 17 to 25, were arrested by police in 2007 and detained for up to six months after blasts at Mecca Masjid, Lumbini Park and Gokul Chat Bhandar in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, killed 55 people in total. "They were wrongly detained and tortured in the police custody and so we think it is justified to give them some compensation in some terms," said Mohammad Ali Shabbir, the state's minister of minority welfare.

However, Arshad Ali Khan, one of the men involved, said nothing could compensate for the torture they had gone through in the custody of police. "Police picked me up from my home and said that I had planted a bomb. They told the media that I had been picked up from a graveyard in the company of some other 'terrorists'," said Mr Khan, 23. "They tortured me in many ways including giving electric shocks on my genitals. All they demanded was a 'confession' that I was terrorist."

"In this [Hindu-majority] society I am still a terrorist in the eyes of many who believe I am a Huji [Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami] terrorist. All along my life I have to live with this stigma. What will this compensation do?" Human rights activists said the compensation package had been announced in an attempt to placate Muslims before the national election in December. Shabnam Hashmi, the executive secretary of the rights group Anhad (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), said the men were stripped before being kicked and then caned. She said at least 10 of the men claimed they were given electric shocks on their genitals.

Ms Hashmi said the compensation package was a "cruel joke". "Can they [the government] return their dignity? Can they return those 100 dark days of torture and depression? Can they remove the label of being a terrorist from their foreheads? They should be ashamed to offer 30,000 rupees as compensation. "These are desperate attempts by the ruling congress to regain the confidence of the minority community who are angry with the government after being victimised in society in many ways for decades."

Following the blasts in May and September police picked up more than 60 suspects, all Muslims, from across the state. Police said Huji and the Students' Islamic Movement of India (Simi) were behind the attacks. Police ended up charging 21 of the suspects and the men went on trial last year. However, the court found them all not guilty and they were acquitted in February. Police evidence against the men included catching some of them watching footage of the Gujarat riots, a series of clashes between Hindus and Muslims in 2002 that killed hundreds.

Ms Hashmi said linking those videos to the 2007 blasts was "ridiculous". The compensation comes as evidence emerges linking Hindu extremist groups to attacks previously blamed on Muslims. Last week two Indian army officers were arrested in connection with a bomb attack that killed seven people in September in Malegaon in the state of Maharashtra. Shabbir Husain, a mosque leader in the predominantly Muslim northern city of Aligarh, said he believed the same Hindu network behind the Malegaon bombing could be responsible for the 2007 incidents in Andhra Pradesh.

"Such terror attacks [on public places, like those that occurred recently] and killing of innocents, do not help ordinary Muslims or Islamic militants achieve anything. "On the other hand, these attacks, which are routinely blamed on Muslim militants, help polarise the society along communal lines and finally help the Hindu parties politically in this Hindu-majority country." aziz@thenational.ae