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11/7: Can accused claim P0W status?

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai
Last updated on: July 11, 2007 09:20 IST
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Can those accused of waging a war against India in connection with the July 11, 2006 Mumbai train blasts be termed 'Prisoners of War'? This is a question the Indian judicial system will soon face, claims defence lawyer Shahid Azmi.

Azmi, who represents prime accused Faisal Ataur Rehman Sheikh, his brother Muzzamil and two other accused, claims: "If my clients are called insurgents, then we are going to claim POW status."

187 people were killed and over 800 others injured in the series of seven explosions that ripped through suburban trains during rush hour that terrible Tuesday.

"I want POW status for my clients," Azmi adds. "This will help them get recognition outside India. If the prosecution claims that my clients are fighting a war against India and want a separate political State or a political identity, then I will seek POW status."

"My clients -- Faisal and Muzzamil -- will be tried under Indian law and will live within Indian jails. But we want legal sanction for them to have POW status."

On how the brothers stood to gain by attaining POW status, Azmi observes, "They have a grievance against the State and this is the reason for them being arrested. The cause will get acceptance in the world if they become POWs."

"International law allows other countries to recognise insurgents. My clients will claim that they are being victimised while living in an unfair, unjust and communal State," Azmi argues.

Even before the trial begins, defence lawyers have questioned the application of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act to the case.

"The central government is empowered to make laws related to national security. MCOCA is a state law and if the prosecution is calling them insurgents, then they should be tried under central laws," Azmi told

However, a Mumbai-based former public prosecutor with four decades of legal experience differs with Azmi's argument.

He told, "War is between two countries. I believe POW status will not be considered in this case. It will help delay the trial, but nothing more is likely to be achieved."

"The fact is that Indian laws have never contemplated such a situation where Indian citizens will be doing these things with international help. We need fresh laws to tackle this situation. Insurgents are people who wage war against the government. These accused are not merely questioning the government. They have many more grouses beyond the purview of legal issues," he asserted.

The accused now declare their innocence in the case though they confessed to their involvement during police interrogation.

The Maharashtra police have so far arrested 13 people; Faisal Shaikh is the prime accused.

Four Indians, including Faisal Shaikh's brother Mohammad Rahil Ataur Rahman Shaikh, are absconding. Rahil is believed to be based in Birmingham, England.

The other three Indian accused are Mohammad Zuber Shamshul Haque Rayee, who is allegedly in Nepal, Sohail Shaikh and Abdul Razak, both of whom are believed to be in Pakistan. According to the prosecution, 12 Pakistanis are involved in the crime -- all of whom are absconding.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai