The Madras High Court recently granted bail to eight men alleged to be members of the banned Popular Front of India (PFI), in a case registered under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for conspiring to commit terrorist acts across the country.
A Bench of Justices SS Sundar and Sunder Mohan noted that while the National Investigating Agency (NIA) charged the appellants of being involved in collecting funds for “committing terrorist acts,” there was nothing on record to link them directly to any terrorist activities.
The NIA had told the Court that several documents, including some “pictures with markings” of RSS leaders and other Hindu organisations, had been found in possession of the appellants, suggesting that these leaders were on a “hit list.”
The Court, however, held,
“Some of the photographs of activists and leaders of RSS or other Hindu Organizations are also captured with specific marking. The interpretation was that the marking will indicate that persons marked are targeted as if they are in 'Hit List' of PFI. When the contents are allowed to be interpreted by one's vivid imagination, one may tend to believe that A6 may pose a potential threat. However, the involvement of A6 in any terrorist act or his association with terrorist Organization cannot be inferred from any of these documents."
The NIA had also contended that based on a "vision document", PFI had an objective to gain political power and to work towards establishment of an Islamic government in India by the year 2047.
The Court went on to say that when the appellants' activities were seen through “jaundiced eyes” by the NIA, each of their actions might appear to be unlawful. However, that cannot be accepted as a fact, it said.
“In the absence of any material connecting appellants to the ''vision document'', every serious accusation appears to be based on probabilities, by assumption. In other words, the opinion formed is without any direct evidence or proof."
It was also highlighted that except the statements of witnesses that some of the appellants organized weapon training using knives and swords, there is no other material to show the involvement of any of the appellants in any terrorist act or as a member of a terrorist gang or organization. The Court added,
"As pointed out earlier, when PFI is only declared as an unlawful Association and not a terrorist Organization so far, any preparatory act in the context, should be construed as one in defence and not to perpetrate any terrorist act."
The appellant were arrested in September last year by the NIA, which claimed that the Union government had received information that several members of the PFI were conspiring to organise terrorist acts in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and several other states in India.
A special court had denied the appellants bail in January this year, prompting them to approach the High Court in appeal.
Senior Advocate T Mohan and Advocates A Raja Mohamed and I Abdul Basith appeared for the appellants.
Additional Solicitor General ARL Sundaresan and Special Public Prosecutor (NIA cases) R Karthikeyan appeared for the NIA.