NEW DELHI: The life sentences awarded to six Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) terrorists, including three Pakistani, by a trial court for plotting to kidnap cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly in 2002, were reduced to eight years each by the Delhi High Court today.
While upholding the trial court's 2010 judgement, a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and S P Garg, however, modified the order on their sentence and reduced the life term awarded to them to eight years on the ground of parity.
The high court reduced the sentence, acceding to the pleas of the HuJI militants that three other key accused, who had earlier confessed to their crime, were awarded 8 years' jail term in 2007 under the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA) Act.
The court's verdict came on appeals by three Pakistani convicts Tariq Mehmood, Arshad Khan and Ishaq Ahmed and their three Indian accomplices, Ghulam Mohammed Dar, Ghulam Qadir Bhat and Mufti Mohammed Israr, who had been convicted under the provisions of the POTA, the IPC and the Arms Act.
Besides plotting to kidnap the cricketers, the HuJI terrorists had planned to assassinate former President A P J Abdul Kalam when he was a scientist and bomb Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in order to secure the release of two Pakistani terrorists lodged in Indian jails.
During the pronouncement of the verdict, Ghulam Qadir Bhat, one of the convicts, today sought acquittal in the case.
At this, the court asked him to file an affidavit tomorrow as to whether he accepts the reduced sentence or he wants to argue for an outright acquittal in the case.
Except Dar, five others have already spent over nine years in jail and as a consequence, they will be released unless required in other case, the court said.
Dar, who has been in jail for more than six years, was also allowed to walk free by the high court which said the period for which he remained out on bail would be declared as part of the jail term "undergone".
The defence lawyers said the bench should take a lenient view of the offences of the six HuJI men as it was the high court which had in 2007 reduced the sentence of three other accused in the case-- Abdul Majid, Mohammed Amran and Mohammed Ashraf --case to eight years.
A lower court had in January last year awarded life imprisonment to six HuJI terrorists in the case, saying "the punishment must send a clear message that India is not a safe haven for terrorists nor will it become one."
The HuJI men wanted to kidnap the cricketers in 2002 to secure the release of two HuJI terrorists Nasarullah Langrial and Abdul Rahim who were then lodged in different jails here.
The convicts faced trial for offences of collecting arms with the intention of waging war against the nation and conspiring to commit many other offences against the state.
Besides the POTA, the accused were also charged under the Arms Act and the three Pakistanis were also tried under the Foreigners Act for trespassing into India.
The police had arrested ten HUJI militants in 2002.
Out of them, three Pakistanis -- Mohd Amran, Abdul Majeed and Mohd Ashraf -- had pleaded guilty in 2003 and were awarded eight years jail term for their varying roles, besides the fine.
Jalaluddin, who was termed as the mastermind, had managed to flee from custody of the police during the probe and was later declared a proclaimed offender by the court.