Mumbai: The Bombay High Court has suspended the life sentence awarded to Afroz Khan Pathan, a convict in the sensational 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case, and granted him conditional bail.
A division bench comprising Justice Revati Mohite-Dere and Justice Gauri Godse also observed that there was no prima facie evidence to prove that Pathan had visited Bangladesh to collect funds for terror activities in India – as claimed by two co-accused in their confessionals.
The judges said in their order that neither of the confessions referring to Pathan prima facie show that he had in fact gone to Bangladesh and got funds, or that he had knowledge or reason to believe the purpose for which he was sent there or the larger conspiracy.
Allowing Pathan’s bail plea filed in 2017, the court also considered that Pathan had spent 17 years in jail during which he completed his BA and MA, a Yoga course and was conducting de-radicalisation sessions in prison with the help of the Taloja Central Jail, Raigad, authorities.
A special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court had convicted Pathan under various provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for conspiracy to strike terror and awarded him a life-term, though he was acquitted for certain other offences under different laws.
It was in 2006 when the Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad was probing the Nanded blast, Buldhana explosives seizure and Marathwada explosions of 2002-2003 that they got a tip-off on a huge cache of arms and explosives likely to reach Aurangabad.
On May 8, 2006, they intercepted a SUV coming from Nashik and proceeding to Aurangabad at Khuldabad, but it sped off. The ATS team chased it and stopped it, and seized a large quantity of arms and ammunition.
Pathan, who had surrendered and then arrested in 2006, was convicted along with other co-accused in 2016, and the following year (2017) filed a plea against his conviction, which is still pending.
During the hearings, Pathan’s lawyer Mubin Solkar argued forcefully for the bail, while Special Public Prosecutor Raja Thakare vehemently opposed the relief for the convict.
His conviction was based on the confessions by M. Amir Shakil Ahmed and Sayyed Aakif Zafaruddin, the call records and an email received by Ahmed – though both had later retracted their statements.
They claimed that Pathan was groomed by another accused to enter Bangladesh illegally along with one Mustafa to get funds from a Pakistani Juned, an activist of the terror outfit Lashkar-E-Taiba.
The judges have suspended Pathan’s life sentence, ordered his release on a conditional bail of Rs 50,000 pending the hearing and final disposal of his plea.