1998: Coimbatore Blasts
Coimbatore, October 24
Amidst unprecedented security around the special court adjacent to the Coimbatore central prison, where the convicts were lodged, special judge K. Uthirapathi began reading out the sentences for 70 men at 10 a.m.
Among them were Al-Umma president Syed Ahmed Basha and general secretary Mohammad Ansari held guilty of criminal conspiracy, multiple murders and use of deadly explosives to cause extensive damage to life and property by engineering the serial bomb blasts on the eve of BJP leader L.K. Advani’s visit, which left 58 dead, more than 250 injured and property worth crores destroyed.
The guilty men were brought to the crowded court room in small batches as the judge read out the sentences one by one. As the court rose for the day, Judge Uthirapathi today sentenced 31 men to serve life sentences and four to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.
These four men were in fact the suicide bombers but had not carried out the bombings, as their plans went haywire since Advani’s fight landed late on May 14, 1998, and by that time the planted explosives had been detonated. The four are likely to soon come out of prison, as they have already served nine years.
Basha, who founded Al-Umma in 1993 following the demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, was sentenced to one life term and a three-year term for causing communal disharmony.
He heard the sentence with a defiant smile on his face and challenged Judge Uthirapathi, “Why is it that members of the Sangh Parivar are not being punished, and only Muslims are sentenced? It is a shame on India that this is happening.”
The Al-Umma general secretary Mohammad Ansari was sentenced to life as well as other terms, ranging from three to nine years rigorous imprisonment.
Ansari, who had led a sort of coup within the extremist organisation against Basha while they were together in jail, shouted that Muslims were being singled out and described the sentences as “one more form of oppression against Muslims”.
The hardest sentence was handed out to Abdul Ojir, one of the masterminds. He was given two life imprisonments, seven nine-year terms, 10 sentences of seven years each and two three-year terms.
One of the main conspirators Basid, a specialist in manufacturing improvised explosive devices, was given six seven-year terms and one of three years, apart from his life sentence.
An agitated Basid threatened, “Advani, Narendra Modi and Praveen Togadia have not been punished. They have not spent even one day in jail, while we are languishing for nine years. They are enjoying Z-category security. Just withdraw their security for an hour and see what happens. They will meet the same fate like former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya. Either punish them or relax their security.”
Among others who were sentenced to life today were Basha’s brother, Nawab Khan, who was also given four seven-year sentences, and one of three years and Basha’s son, Siddique Ali, was sentenced to two life terms, two nine-year terms, one of 10 years, and two terms each of seven and three years.
The prosecution had pleaded for death penalty while arguing that the guilty had pre-planned and carried out the serial blasts aimed at Advani, killing innocent people to avenge the death of Muslims in communal riots in the aftermath of the Babri mosque demolition which shook the entire country.
Out of the 168 accused, two had died in custody, while eight, including Kerala-based politician Abdul Nasser Madhani, had been acquitted on August 1 when the special judge pronounced the guilty verdict for the remaining 158 persons.
He had earlier sentenced 88 persons to prison, ranging from several months to nine years. Many of them were released as their time in jail was set off against the sentences.
More than 200 people were arrested following the blasts and the trial which began only in 2002 examined around 1,300 witnesses out of 2,345.
Judge Uthirapthi will read out the sentence for the remaining 35 convicts tomorrow.
Defence lawyers expressed unhappiness that they were not given copies of the operative parts of the judgement before they argued the cases of sentencing and said they would appeal before higher courts. One of the leading defence lawyers P. Thirumalairjan said, “It is a fit case for appeal. This charge of conspiracy will not stand scrutiny before the higher courts, as the prosecution case was shattered by the defence.”