HE Bombay High Court Tuesday upheld the bail granted to 27-year-old Areeb Majeed, a Kalyan resident, who was arrested in November 2014 for having travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the global terrorist outfit, ISIS. Majeed is the only ISIS recruit to have returned to India.
A division bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale ordered the release of Majeed on the ground that the trial would take very long and the petitioner had already undergone incarceration for more than six years as an undertrial prisoner.
In March last year, Majeed was granted bail by a special NIA court which noted that the pace of the trial was slow and the prosecution had not succeeded in proving its prima facie case against the accused.
The high court, while upholding the order of the NIA Court in so far as the delay in the trial was concerned, set aside the latter’s order to the extent that it ruled that the NIA had not been able to prove a prima facie case against Majeed on the basis of the examination of 49 witnesses; the prosecution had also failed to give any specific direction.
On the rejection of a prima facie case against Majeed by the NIA, the high court said “We are of the opinion that such an approach cannot be countenanced particularly in the backdrop of the fact that the finding regarding the prima facie truth about the accusations had been rendered twice over against the respondent when the earlier two bail applications were rejected on merits”.
On the second aspect of the case, viz, delay in trial, the court said that constitutional courts could certainly take note of the violation of fundamental rights guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India, particularly the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution which includes right to a speedy trial.
The court relied upon the recent decision of the Supreme Court in NIA vs K.A. Najeeb, which in the context of the right to a speedy trial, specifically held that the rigours of the stringent provisions of bail as found in Section 43D(5) of the UAPA would “meltdown” where there was no likelihood of the trial being completed in a reasonable time and the period of incarceration already undergone exceeded a substantial part of the prescribed sentence.
It added that it was conscious of the fact that even a sentence of life imprisonment could be imposed for the offence with which, Majeed had been charged under the UAPA and the IPC but, it could not ignore the fact that the sentence could range between five years to imprisonment for life.
“This is particularly significant in the backdrop of the fact that the respondent has admittedly already undergone incarceration for more than six years while the trial is underway before the NIA Court. Looking to the pace at which about 51 witnesses have been examined, which took more than five years for the NIA Court, there is clearly no likelihood of the trial being completed within a reasonable time in the near future. Therefore, we are of the opinion that on this aspect, no error can be attributed to the impugned judgment and order passed by the NIA Court, while holding in favour of the respondent”, the court ruled.
The court also said Majeed was an educated person, who was completing his graduation in Civil Engineering when he left for Iraq at the age of 21 years.
“He categorically stated before us that as a 21-year-old, he was carried away and that he had committed a serious mistake, for which he had already spent more than six years behind bars”, the bench said.
The court praised Majeed, who argued his own case before the NIA Court as well as before the high court.
“He represented his own case before this court as well as the NIA Court and we could find that he was presenting his case by maintaining decorum and in a proper manner”, the court said.
It said Majeed’s release may not be harmful to society at large and it would not adversely affect the trial proceedings before the NIA Court.
The bench imposed some stringent conditions for Majeed to follow while on bail, directing him to furnish Rs 1 lakh as surety and to stay with his family at Kalyan in neighbouring Thane district.
Majeed has to appear before the police in Kalyan twice every day for the first two months and once a day for the next two months. He will not speak to the media about his case and will not attempt to make contact with the co-accused.
It was the case of the NIA that Majeed, along with the three other absconding accused persons had visited Iraq on the pretext of a pilgrimage, though their real intention was to join the Islamic State for Iraq and Levant.
According to the NIA, the accused persons formed an unlawful association with an intention to promote terrorism in Iraq, Syria and India. They also participated in terrorist activities in Syria and Iraq and were likely to commit such acts in India too.
Majeed had allegedly returned to India with the intention of carrying out such terrorist acts, including blowing up the police headquarters at Mumbai.