A year in jail for Indian activist held over Prophet remarks row

Javed Mohammad is accused of instigating demonstrations, but his family and lawyers say there is no evidence against him.

Indian activist Javed Mohammad
Police accuse Javed Mohammad of being a 'mastermind' of protests in the Indian city of Prayagraj [Courtesy of Javed Mohammad's family]

New Delhi, India – A Muslim activist has completed a year in jail without trial after being accused of “masterminding” protests against derogatory remarks made by members of India’s ruling party about the Prophet Muhammad.

Javed Mohammad has been jailed since June 11 last year. He has been granted bail in six of the eight cases against him and remains behind bars in Uttar Pradesh state’s Deoria district, about 260km (160 miles) northeast of his hometown of Prayagraj, where his home was demolished by authorities following the nationwide protests.

Two days before the 57-year-old activist finished a year in jail, his 83-year-old father, Mohammad Azhar, died. Authorities denied him permission to attend the burial.

Mohammad’s daughter Afreen Fatima, 25, is angry that her father did not get a parole to attend the funeral.

“Hatred has grown so big that people have become inhuman. A man is behind bars for one year even though the entire city can testify his innocence. His father passed away, but he is not allowed to attend the funeral rites,” she told Al Jazeera.

On June 10 last year, protests erupted over derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad by at least two prominent members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including its national spokeswoman.

The remarks set off diplomatic protests and outrage from the Muslim world and countries that included the United States.

In some places in India, protesters demanding the arrest of the two BJP members threw rocks at security forces, leading to clashes that killed at least two teenagers.

After a similar clash in Prayagraj, a city that had earlier been known as Allahabad, the state government, led by far-right Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, launched a crackdown on the protesters and arrested dozens of people.

Imprisonment without trial

Mohammad, a community leader in the city, was arrested after police declared him the “mastermind” of the protests in Prayagraj. The next day, authorities razed his two-storey house, declaring his decades-old residence an “illegal structure”.

“We lost the home in which we had lived for more than 20 years. We grew up in that house. Of course, there are so many memories. It was a safe space of ours. Now, this realisation hits us that there is no safe space for a Muslim in India,” Fatima said.

Describing her father’s incarceration as “unjust” and “wrongful”, Fatima, who was a students union leader at Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh Muslim University, said the criminal justice system in India is flawed because it keeps detainees in jail for months and even years without trial.

“My father has not been notified of the trail yet,” she told Al Jazeera.

“The process itself is the punishment because the allegations levelled against my father are not going to be proved. There is not an iota of evidence which the state can show against him. Even during the hearings for bail, the court every time asks the police to come with evidences,” she said.

Mohammad’s lawyer Farman Naqvi said some of the charges his client faces were filed under the stringent National Security Act (NSA), which allows a person’s detention for a year without charges.

Naqvi said the defence challenged the use of the NSA against Mohammad before the Allahabad High Court, which last month withheld its order in the case.

Mohammad was granted bail by the Allahabad High Court and lower courts in six of the eight cases against him, Naqvi said, adding that the defence has challenged his bail rejection in the remaining two.

‘Punished for speaking up’

In a bail order by the Allahabad High Court on January 28, Justice Sameer Jain observed: “If we consider the entire evidence available on record, including the statements of prosecution witnesses and statements of applicant and other accused persons recorded during investigation, then it appears that it is a case of mob violence and at this stage it cannot be said that applicant [Mohammad] was instrumental for such violence.”

An officer at Kareli police station in Prayagraj told Al Jazeera police have filed charge sheets in all eight cases against Mohammad.

But Naqvi said the charges are “absurd”. “He has no role anywhere. … They got no evidence against him. The main point is that he has not been shown as an active participant of violence in any of the FIRs [first information reports filed by police],” he said.

Mohammed Shoaib, lawyer and human rights defender in Uttar Pradesh’s capital, Lucknow, told Al Jazeera that Mohammad has been implicated in false cases.

“Javed used to raise people’s issues. He especially used to focus on Muslim issues. Such activities are an anathema to the current government. That is why false cases were filed against him,” he said.

Shoaib said the Uttar Pradesh government uses intimidation to silence activists. “Javed Mohammad is being punished for speaking up against the government,” he told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera