Lucknow: Human rights activists and senior lawyers on Thursday slammed the Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government over the arrests of several people by the UP Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS UP) for alleged links to Al Qaeda, claiming there were many loopholes in this action. They alleged that to divert attention from its failures, the government is creating an "anti-Muslim sentiment" ahead of the state assembly elections scheduled for next year.
Sandeep Pandey, Ramon Magsaysay awardee and national vice-president of the Socialist Party (India), and Mohammed Shoaib, president of the Rihai Manch – an outfit that provides legal help to victims of hate crimes and also those implicated in "false" terror cases – have raised questions over the ATS action. They claimed that the arrests were part of a political agenda and that people were being made "scapegoats" before the UP elections. The kin of those arrested have also raised serious questions.
Addressing a press conference organised by the Rihai Manch at its office in Lucknow, Pandey alleged that many innocent people were also arrested earlier on "false charges of terrorism". He said dozens of youth have been later acquitted by courts after they had spent several years behind bars.
Taking a jibe at the government, Pandey said the way the recovery of pressure cookers was publicised after the arrests in the name of Al Qaeda, it seemed that "keeping this essential item in the house has become a crime under this government".
Echoing similar views, Shoaib termed the arrests as an "attempt to take advantage" ahead of the "upcoming assembly elections". He said there was doubt and outrage within the public over the arrests of Minhaz Ahmed and Maseeruddin -- both residents of Lucknow and engaged as e-an rickshaw-driver and battery seller respectively – who were arrested due to an alleged link with Al Qaeda on July 11 and those of Shakeel, Mohammad Mustqueem and Mohammad Moid, who were arrested later.
“The recent arrests in the name of busting terror modules seem to be done after similar planning by security agencies – it was done during the 2017 elections by showing the encounter of Saifullah in Lucknow's Haji colony,” he alleged.
Shoaib said that the average person was of the view that "just as the encounter of Saifullah and arrests in the name of IS happened before the 2017 assembly elections, similar arrests have been made for polarisation of votes".
Meanwhile, the UP ATS has claimed that Minhaz Ahmed and Maseeruddin – both arrested from the outskirts of Lucknow on July 11 – were allegedly planning a terror attack, including the use of "human bombs" in the state capital and at several places in eastern Uttar Pradesh ahead of Independence Day. A huge cache of explosives was seized from their houses, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar has claimed.
"Based on tip-offs, some persons were called for interrogation by the ATS. The three were arrested after they accepted their involvement with the two arrested earlier," Kumar said during a press conference.
Narrating the events of the day when the ATS team raided his house, Siraj Ahmed, father of Minhaz, said: "He was shocked when the ATS team landed up at his house at around 10; a large number of people were gathered outside. They searched Minhaz's room and hurriedly left with some belongings. When we intervened, they did not show us what they recovered. They threatened us and told us to keep quiet and not share details with the media," Siraj alleged, adding that the ATS personnel packed the things recovered from Minhaz's room in a suitcase and bags.
Minhaz, a diploma holder in electrical engineering, would run a battery shop in Lucknow’s Dubagga area and e-rickshaw driver Maseeruddin was engaged with him.
Sayeeda, Maseeruddin's wife, said that the ATS took away her husband with the new pressure cooker she had bought. "The ATS team came to my house at around 9:00 am on Sunday when we were eating breakfast. My husband was not properly dressed; they took him in a vest and lungi. Later, a few ATS officers came and searched our house. Along with the new pressure cooker, they took away all our government identity cards and personal documents," Sayeeda, the mother of four children alleged. She further added that before working as an e-rickshaw driver, Maseeruddin used to work as a labourer in old Lucknow.
"We are living in extreme poverty but it is strange that we are being described by the ATS as dreaded terrorists. I never found my husband doing anything unusual," she said.
When asked about Minhaz, she said that a battery was worth around Rs 14,000 and "he (Minhaz) was not in a position to buy them at once; in such a situation he used to take batteries on installments. Whenever he could not able to pay the installment, Minhaz used to come to inquire about a delayed installment," a distraught Sayeeda claimed.
Siraj added that Maseeruddin was going through tough times. Minhaz would usually would help him with money and batteries, he said. Both family members claimed that they never heard of Al Qaeda or any such or any such organisation. "They (ATS) wants to snatch our sole breadwinner in our old age," they claimed.