Mumbai, February 23: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday dismissed a plea by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) seeking orders to set aside the bail granted by a special NIA court to Kalyan-resident Areeb Majeed, accused of having links with the Islamic State.
Majeed, who has spent over six years in Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, will be released on bail pending trial, with stringent conditions on furnishing personal bond of Rs 1 lakh and sureties. He can neither leave Kalyan nor change his residence, and will have to report to the nearest police station twice a day for two months, after which he will have to report once a day for two months.
Rejected the plea by Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh, who was representing the NIA, the HC said, “… this is a question of liberty and that the detention of the accused for this long worked in his favour,” The Indian Express reported.
While the HC upheld the special court’s March 17, 2020 order on the aspect of granting bail pending trial, it set aside the special court order pertaining to the merits of the case.
On February 4, while reserving its order on NIA’s appeal against Majeed, the HC had observed that his actions had caused numerous problems for himself and his family. Majeed travelled to Iraq and Syria in 2014 to allegedly join the terror outfit.
The HC had also directed the Mumbai Central prison to produce Majeed before the court. He was present for the hearing today.
A division bench of Justices SS Shinde and Manish Pitale was hearing the case. On February 4, the hearing continued for over three hours, exceeding the regular court timing.
The bail order, however, had been stayed by the court till March 27 on a plea by the NIA, which said it wanted to file an appeal in the HC. The HC had continued the stay on operation of the special court’s order.
Majeed was part of a group of pilgrims travelling to Iraq in May 2020 along with three others — Aman Tandel, Fahad Sheikh and Saheem Tanki. The NIA claimed the four separated from the tour group and joined ISIS and carried out terror acts. It said Majeed was arrested on November 28, 2014, after he returned to India with “ulterior motives”.
Singh had argued for the NIA that Majeed had returned with an intention to carry out terrorist activities. He submitted a picture of Majeed, where he is holding a purported weapon, and said he was involved in “terrorist activities”. The judges, in chamber, had also reviewed video clips produced by the NIA related to the “purpose” with which Majeed was allegedly involved with the banned terrorist organisation.
However, Majeed, who appeared in person before the court, said: “The entire charge is about being in Iraq between June and November 2014. The present trial is not for any offences in India, against India or anything pertaining to India. The charge of ulterior motive is not present in the chargesheet, but was later added by the prosecution.”
He added that based on an application by his father, the NIA through the Indian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, had made arrangements for his return from Istanbul. “They (NIA) do not want to admit the role they had played in my return,” Majeed argued.
Justice Pitale had asked Majeed, “Why would a 21-year-old go to Iraq, who is studying, would leave family, to be with people you don’t even know and haven’t met in life? Don’t you have enough suffering around you? By leaving your family behind. You may be immature at that time like you said. Imagine the suffering you’ve imposed on your family and parents.”
Majeed responded, “As soon as I realised, I came back. My father had applied to the NIA.”
The bench said: “You have no idea what your parents must have gone through. You cannot imagine.”
“Even I have suffered for the past six years after they kept me away from them (family),” Majeed said.
“I will not shy away from what wrong I have done, but the accusations that the NIA has made such as involvement in terrorist activities are hard to digest. The NIA cannot assume things for the future. Aggrieved parties can always approach the court in that case,” Majeed said.
When the bench sought to know how he was spending time in jail, Majeed said he was studying law.
Justice Pitale said, “If you had utilised your abilities and skills to the best when you were 21, that would have been a matter of joy for your family and the country too.”
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dr Ejaz Majeed, father of Areeb and a Unani medicine practitioner, said, “We are thankful to the God’s grace for Areeb’s release and we are awaiting for the formalities related to his release to be completed and it is too early to comment on how we are going to celebrate his return home.”