Syed Fasihullah Hussainy is finally going home to Karachi after 14 long years in Indian prisons, acquitted of all charges of terrorism brought against him when he was arrested in August 1999.
Ironically, it was the fatal attack on an Indian prisoner, Sarabjit Singh, in a Lahore prison in April 2013 that brought me into contact with Hussainy. I was in the Guwahati Central Jail hospital due to malafide prosecution and a vicious physical attack arising out of political enmity that left me with two shattered legs among assorted injuries.
On April 29, 2013, Hussainy was shifted into my ‘high security’ hospital ward, as part of the Indian government’s measures to prevent any retaliation against Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails.
As we exchanged stories and became friends, sharing every meal over the next nineteen days I was there, I learnt that the Assam Police had arrested Hussainy in Guwahati (the high court and the university still use the city’s old name, Gauhati) on Aug 7, 1999, along with three Indians who had apparently illegally crossed over into Assam from Bangladesh.
A total of four cases were brought against Hussainy. Described variously as an officer of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) or as a senior functionary of the terrorist group Harkat-ul-Ansar, he spent the next nine years in jail, contesting the charges of terrorism brought against him by the Union of India. By June 2008, the Kamrup Sessions Court acquitted him of all such charges in three of the four cases.
On June 12, 2008, the court convicted Hussainy under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act 1946 and sentenced him to five years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine of Rs. 1000.00, for entering India without valid documents. By that time, he had long served out his sentence, which was to be set off against his detention as an under-trial under Section 428 CrPC.
In August 2010, the Goalpara Sessions Court acquitted Hussainy of all charges brought against him even in this fourth case, and ordered him to be deported as he had already served out his sentence for illegally entering India.
But the Assam Police had other ideas. They charged Hussainy with two new cases of terrorism -- for attacks that took place while he was actually in jail. He petitioned the Gauhati High Court to quash those ludicrous charges.
On May 17, 2013, the day I was released from detention on the intervention of the Gauhati High Court, the court quashed two new cases again falsely brought against Hussainy. That day, the same bench of the Gauhati High Court also upheld his acquittals in all the other cases by the trial courts.
I have recounted the detailed story of Fasihullah’s 14 year-long ordeal in my blog, “The Price of Being a Pakistani in India: The ISI Officer Who Never Was”, June 17, 2013 (link: http://bit.ly/1bdghU4)
According to an Clause (v) of the Agreement between India and Pakistan on Consular Access, signed in Islamabad on May 21, 2008, Hussainy should have been repatriated within a month of confirmation of his national status and completion of his sentence, ie. by June 17, 2013. But the state continued to drag its feet.
Taking note of the fact that Hussainy was now being held in judicial custody without any charges, the Chief Judicial Magistrate (Kamrup) passed orders to expedite his repatriation. But there was still no sign of the state acting on this.
I personally took up the matter in July 2013 both with the Government of India, pursuing the Ministry of Home Affairs that ‘processes’ repatriation of Pakistani (or any foreign) prisoners from Indian prisons, and the Ministry of External Affairs that facilitates repatriations. The Ministry of Home Affairs stonewalled the matter.
Left with no other recourse against this continued illegal detention, Hussainy moved the Gauhati High Court seeking relief. The High Court intervened on his behalf.
Syed Fasihullah Hussainy is finally being repatriated 14 years, 4 months after being arrested.
I contacted the Pakistani human rights lawyer Ansar Burney and provided him with all details. Thanks to Mr Burney’s efforts, Hussainy’s family in Karachi was located as Hussainy had lost touch with them and did not even have their address. Mr. Burney and I have continuously kept in touch and pursued governments on both sides to expedite Hussainy’s repatriation.
My last meeting with Hussainy was on June 27, 2013, after my release from detention, during one of his court appearances after his acquittal. I was still in a wheelchair and had to be carried up to the third floor of the courthouse. I felt I must go, as these were rare opportunities to meet him. All subsequent contact was through my younger sister who would meet him during court appearances and update him on developments regarding his repatriation, as authorities made it difficult to meet him in prison.
I wanted to bid him farewell in person, but the authorities were again obstructive. They first informed me that he is leaving Guwahati on the morning of Dec 3 but when my mother and sister went to the prison to meet him on Dec 2, they learnt that he had been sent off that morning to Delhi. We hear he will be repatriated across Wagah on Dec 6, 2013, but I have no written official confirmation of the exact day and time.
When I was released from Guwahati Central Jail on May 17, 2013, I had left with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, and a solemn promise to Fasihullah Hussainy that I will do all I can to see him repatriated.
Words cannot express the joy of having kept that promise. This is also my intimately personal gesture to say that we shall not allow our nationality or faith to subvert our humanity.
Nilim Dutta is the Executive Director of Strategic Research & Analysis Organization and supports a sensible and constructive Indo-Pak relationship. [email protected] @NilimDutta