Why did Ram Jethmalani save SAR Geelani from hanging over involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack?

Mohammad Bilal
Mohammad BilalDec 13, 2023 | 08:00

Why did Ram Jethmalani save SAR Geelani from hanging over involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack?

Late Ram Jethmalani had defended S.A.R Geelani in 2003 in the Parliament attack case. Photos: India Today/ Reuters

On December 13, 2001, five armed militants entered the Indian Parliament while the proceedings were going on. The terrorists were neutralised before they could enter the inside of the Parliament house, but the question was who was behind the attacks.

Geelani arrested

  • Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani, a former Arabic lecturer at New Delhi’s Zakir Hussain College, was among the three Kashmiri men (Afzal Guru, Shaukat Guru, and a Sikh woman, Navjot Singh) arrested for orchestrating attacks on the Indian Parliament. 
  • They were tried under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), and the three men were sentenced to death by Justice Shiv Narayan Dhingra on December 18, 2002, one year after the attack. 
  • It was all over for Geelani until former law minister and acclaimed lawyer Ram Jethmalani stepped up and challenged Geelani’s death sentence in the High Court and in a shocking verdict, got his acquittal.
    SAR Geelani (L) and Afzal Guru (R) after their arrest on December 16, 2001. Photo: AFP



Why did Jethamalani come to the defence of Geelani?

  • Ram Jethmalani stepped up in favor of Geelani because he, along with several other intellectuals, felt that Geelani was not given a fair trial. 
  • Jethmalani told the High Court judges hearing the case that Geelani did not get even a moment’s fair trial in the lower court and that he had taken up the case because he was morally convinced that Geelani was innocent and there was no evidence against him. 
  • He claimed in court that the conduct of the trial was far below Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and was "unconstitutional.” Jethmalani said that Geelani’s trial under POTA was without proper sanctions and riddled with illegality and evidence. 
  • “The purported sanctions were given by authorities that had no power to grant them, and the evidence discloses total non-application of mind and unforgiveable frivolity of attitude," the Times of India quoted Jethamalani as saying. 
  • He added that the lieutenant governor’s sanctions were mechanical and were given without the application of the mind. He had simply approved the application without making any notes about charges leveled against the accused, and the same was also done by the Delhi commissioner. 
  • Jethmalani’s solid defence worked, and Geelani was acquitted by the Delhi High Court in October 2003, and his acquittal was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005. 
  • This was done by Jethmalani at a time when no lawyer had the courage to take up Geelani’s case, even in the Special Court. The right-wing outfits like the Shiv Sena lambasted Jethmalani, but the Jethmalani stood his ground.
    Ram Jethmalani took up the case of SAR Geelani in 2003. Photo: Getty



Jethmalani kept in touch with Geelani

  • Geelani, after his acquittal, returned to his teaching life but had to face immense hurdles. 
  • In February 2005, an unknown assasin pumped seven bullets inside Geelani’s body outside his lawyer's residence. The doctors could save him, but they could only remove three bullets from the body, and the rest four were inside him for the rest of his life. 
  • Jethmalani kept in touch with him, even after Geelani returned to Kashmir in 2013. Jethmalani not only defended Geelani, but he also represented several other Hurriyat leaders in Delhi. 
  • Upon meeting in Kashmir in 2014, Jethmalani is said to have asked Geelani to change his stand on the Kashmir issue. But Geelani replied that “there can be no change in the principles.” Geelani passed away on October 25, 2019, following a cardiac arrest. 
  • His sons had said that their father was deeply affected by Afzal Guru’s hanging in 2013, which he considered wrong.
Last updated: December 13, 2023 | 08:00
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