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NIA Raids Human Rights Defender Wahid Shaikh's Mumbai House in Connection With PFI Case

The investigating agency left Shaikh's house at 5 pm. His lawyer says the agency did not find any incriminating material.
NIA officers outside Wahid Shaikh's house. Photo: Special arrangement

Mumbai: At around 5 am on Wednesday (October 11), when Abdul Wahid Shaikh – a human rights defender and school teacher – was still asleep, a battery of police – some in the Mumbai police uniform and a few in civil clothes –reached his residence. They identified themselves as police and wanted Shaikh to open the door. Shaikh, who has already spent nine years in jail for his alleged link in the July 11, 2006 serial train blast case, only to be later acquitted by the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court in 2015, is too familiar with what a “police search” entails. He asked for a warrant before opening the door. The police refused.

Shaikh continued to ask the gathered police for their identity for the next few hours. “They first told me they are from Mumbai police, later claimed to be from the Delhi police. One of them shouted that they are from the UP police. I kept telling them I am willing to cooperate and you can enter my house, provided you keep this transparent. I asked them to serve a proper legal notice and carry out the search,” Shaikh said, over a phone call, even as he was locked inside the house with his wife and children.

Finally, around 10 am, when his lawyer Ibrahim Harbat reached his residence, the police said that they were in fact from the National Investigation Agency and were there for a raid in connection with a case against the recently banned Popular Front of India (PFI). Harbat demanded a search warrant and one of them handed over a piece of paper with handwritten orders. When Harbat refused to accept the notice, they finally sent an NIA official back to their office to get a signed copy of the warrant.

Six hours later, at 11 am, the raid finally began. Shaikh’s children were allowed to step out of the house around 1 pm.

A local cop, who did not reveal his identity, told media persons that the raid was to “dismantle the modules of the banned Muslim organisation Popular Front of India”. “The case was linked to causing disruption during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Bihar last year. The NIA took over the case, originally registered by Phulwari Sharif police station in Patna in July 2022, against Popular Front of India (PFI) members for conspiring to disrupt the PM’s visit,” the officer told the media. Similar raids are carried out at multiple locations, the police claimed.

In the six hours that the police had gheraoed Shaikh’s house, he had already written to the Mumbai police and contacted media persons. He had also put out a recorded video statement describing the ordeal he and his family were put through. “They have broken one of the two doors to my house. They have also broken the CCTV mounted outside my house,” he said in the video.

Shaikh, a resident of the lower-middle-class Mumbai suburb of Vikhroli, teaches at Anjuman-i-Islam Abdus Sattar Shoaib School. After a prolonged incarceration of nine years, when Shaikh was finally released in 2015, he went on to study law. He is presently pursuing a PhD and also runs ‘Innocence Network’, a loosely run collective that advocates and seeks to provide pro-bono legal aid for those wrongfully imprisoned, just like Shaikh was in the past.

Shaikh is a prolific writer. He has already written two books – Begunaah Qaidi (Innocent Prisoners) and Ishrat Jahan Encounter. The latter, he says, brings out the truth behind the alleged fake encounter killing of the 19-year-old college student. His book on Ishrat was published in January this year. Since then, the Maharashtra police have denied permission or stopped the book discussion midway at several venues across the state. The book, so far only published in Urdu, was termed “anti-government” by the Bhiwandi police in August when they denied the organisers permission for a book discussion.

‘No incriminating material’

The NIA finally left from Shaikh’s residence around 5 pm, his lawyer Harbat told The Wire. “The NIA did not find any incriminating material from his place,” Harbat said. They seized Shaikh’s phone.

Shaikh told The Wire that because the police were not willing to give him a hash value – a number unique to the precise data on the device at the time of its seizure, which courts can refer to in the event of accusations of tampering against the police – for his mobile phone, he did not sign the notice that was given to him.

The notice was issued under Section 160 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which is primarily given to a witness for both interrogation and house searches. He was summoned to the Lucknow branch of the NIA on October 30 to answer questions about the case.

Meanwhile, the NIA, after carrying out raids at 20 different locations across Maharashtra, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, released a press statement. “These operation are part of an ongoing investigations in cases linked with the Popular Front of India (PFI), and their involvement in unlawful and anti-national activities (sic),” the statement read. During the searches, the NIA claims to have found a “substantial cache of crucial evidence in the ongoing case”.

“This evidence includes various digital devices such as laptops, mobile phones, SIM cards, memory cards, pen-drives, and hard discs. Furthermore, incriminating documents have been recovered during the operations.” the statement claimed.

“Additionally, a significant amount of Indian currency, with a face value of Rs. 8.5 lakhs, has been seized in connection with the instant case,” the NIA said in the statement.

During a raid in August 2022, the NIA claimed to have found a document titled “India 2047 Towards Rule of Islam in India, Internal Document: Not for circulation”, following which arrests were made and the NIA has since submitted three chargesheets in the case against 17 persons.

Previously, the NIA had conducted multiple searches in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala in order to collect evidence against the accused persons and suspects in the present case. “Their (accused persons) aim has been the pursuit and establishment of an Islamic Rule in India by the year 2047,” the NIA claims.

A history of harassment

After Wahid’s acquittal and subsequent release, the police continued to harass him. He had told The Wire that every year, the police would come to his house and ask vague questions. After every visit, he wrote letters to the commissioner so that there is a paper trail about the police’s harassment – a lesson that he learnt after he was implicated in the 7/11 blasts case.

In 2019, the Mumbai police arrived at his house and questioned him about his job, activism and his opinion on the extension of the ban on SIMI. The police claimed that the visit was part of a “routine check” on people who were involved in terror cases. “They could have sent me a notice and asked me to come to the police station. I would have done that. But coming to my house and interrogating me in front of my family, even when there is no complaint against me, is an attempt to threaten me… The court found all charges against me to be untrue. I am like any other normal Indian citizen. Do policemen walk into the houses of normal individuals and interrogate them in front of their families?” he wrote in a letter to the Mumbai police commissioner.

Though not a practising lawyer, Wahid gives advice to people who he thinks are in the same position as he was – falsely accused in a case. In affidavits seeking custody of some PFI members, the police mentioned that they were in touch with Abdul Wahid.

In another case, the Delhi police mentioned his name and claimed that he is a terrorist sympathiser who travels around the country under the garb of activism for prisoners’ rights but is actually raising funds for terror activities.

“I fear that such claims may be used to implicate me in a false case again – after all, it has happened to other people before,” Wahid told The Wire. “My defence will be stronger this time, but I also know that provisions that allow the police to abuse the system have also become stronger. It is now possible for any person to be declared a terrorist without trial, and to be held guilty just by association!”

With inputs from Amrit B.L.S.

Note: This article was updated at 7:33 pm on October 11 with statements from Shaikh’s lawyer and the NIA. It was updated again at 10:58 pm on the same day.

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