MUMBAI: In a major setback to the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) the Bombay High Court on Thursday acquitted Mirza Himayat Baig, an accused in Pune’s German Bakery blast case, on nine of the 10 charges. The court cleared Baig on charges of masterminding the blasts but held him guilty of possessing explosive substances and forged documents. As a result, the High Court commuted Baig’s death penalty to life imprisonment.
The Pune Sessions Court in 2013 had awarded Baig, a resident of Latur, the death penalty after finding him guilty for murder, attempt to murder, promoting enmity between different groups, possessing explosive substances and criminal conspiracy. While the Maharashtra government had filed a petition to confirm the death penalty, Baig had filed an appeal challenging his conviction.
Justices N H Patil and S B Shukre in their judgment acquitted Baig on all five counts under which he was convicted. Special Public Prosecutor Raja Thakare argued for the death sentence, stating that the entire case had been based on circumstantial evidence but every circumstance had been proved by relevant records, of sterling quality.
However, Baig’s lawyers Mehmood Pracha and T W Pathan argued that the prosecution’s evidence was weak and fabricated. They said independent investigations carried out by other agencies like the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Delhi Special Cell had indicated that other accused, not before the court had been involved in the case.
Apart from that, the court took into consideration applications by two key witnesses who said that they were coerced into giving statements against Baig during his trial. AAP leader Ashish Khetan too had moved an application claiming that he had carried out a sting operation on these witnesses which revealed that they had been coerced and tutored by the ATS.
The ATS had recovered 1,200 kg of RDX from Baig’s residence in September 2010. There were eight accused in the case, of which only two were arrested. Another accused, Qateel Siddiqui, was murdered in Pune’s Yerawada jail by his fellow inmates. The other six accused IM operatives Yasin Bhatkal, Mohsin Choudhary, Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Ismail Bhatkal, Fayyaz Kagzi and Sayyad Zabiuddin Ansari.
The prosecution said that the bomb that was used in the blast had been assembled at Baig’s internet cafe, after which Baig and Choudhary had travelled to Pune to plant it. However, Baig’s lawyer had earlier argued that he was attending a wedding at Latur at the time of the blast.