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‘Mistaken identity’ or Muslim witch-hunt? Islamic preacher labeled as ‘Terrorist’ gets acquittal after 19 years

19 years labeled as terrorist for a crime which he did not commit, Abdullah Salafi (now 58) an Islamic preacher was arrested in December 1998 on false allegation of his links with ISI – intelligence agency of Pakistan. Finally after a long ordeal, he is freed from all charges by the Kolkata city sessions court on Tuesday.

Salafi, then 38-year-old was picked up in a joint operation led by the Sagardidhi police and the Special Branch of Kolkata Police on his way to attend a community program in Murshidabad. He was booked under sections 121 (waging war against the Government of India), 121A (criminal conspiracy) and 467 (forgery) and 471 (using as genuine a forged document or electronic record) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

As usual, his arrest made media headlines but found no place in the main stream media when he was released after 19 years.

Following his arrest, Salafi was transferred to Alipore Central Jail in Kolkata. Three more people – Abu Nasir, Mritonjoy Das and Akhlaq Ahmed – were also arrested after him.

Abdullah Salafi

Salafi was lucky enough to secure bail after Kolkata police failed to file a charge sheet against him within 90 days. Even though he was technically “free” man, he had to spend 19 years with the social stigma of being a “terrorist”. The other three had to stay behind bars for around five years before they were released on bail.

Since the prosecution failed to produce evidence to establish the charges against him, Salafi was acquitted by Special Judge Kumkum Sinha. Ironically, no hearing in the case took place for five years because Public Prosecutor kept changing as a result of the change in governments in the state.

Though he was out on bail in this period of 19 years, it was not easy for him to cope with the situation that arose after his implication in the case that involved national security. Many of his family members distanced themselves from him. They also suspected that he might have any link with the foreign agency.

Salafi, who has four daughters and two sons, ran an Islamic bookstall during these 19 years. He is also the district President of Jamiat-Ahle-Hadith – a religious Muslim organization.

When the police failed to produce any evidence against him, it told the court that it was a case of “mistaken identity”. Hi first name Abdullah was the same as another Abdullah who the Special Branch was searching for his alleged involvement with the banned SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India).

But even though it became clear that the Police had apparently made a mistake, he had to wait for 19 years to be declared as innocent by the court.

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