My Name is Abu Salem

As 1992 drew to a close, the simmering communal fervor in the country came to the boil as a BJP-led mob demolished the 465-year-old Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Mumbai witnessed some of the bloodiest riots in the country. Sunil Dutt organized help and medical aid for all those injured, regardless of their religion, origin or constituency, while Sanjay too pitched in. Not everyone approved of the Hindu family helping Muslim victims of the communal clashes. The otherwise revered MP was attacked on several occasions. Undeterred, he continued to do his humanitarian work. Sanjay Dutt had just about enough of the threats and attacks. Enter Hanif Kadawala and Samir Hingora. Sanjay shared his predicament with this film producer duo. All he wanted was a means to protect himself and his family. That would entail beefing up his threadbare arsenal of firearms. Having already been introduced to Anis Ibrahim and been a guest at the gangster’s home in Dubai, Sanjay knew who to get in touch with for the arms. Eventually it was decided Salem would accompany Kadawala and Hingora to Sanjay’s residence with an array of guns and grenades. Salem, whose criminal work at this stage didn’t go beyond roughing up victims using a small gang, had only ever seen sophisticated weapons like these in films.

The city and its police were caught completely off guard by the 1993 serial blasts. Abu Salem knew as he entered Dubai airport, that he would not be returning to Mumbai any time soon. He had landed in Dubai under the name and fictitious identity of Akil Ahmed Azmi.

The signing of an Extradition Treaty in 1996 between the UAE and Indian Governments had been a landmark event. Salem was detained in Dubai and thrown behind bars. The Dubai Courts however ruled against the extradition of Akil Ahmed Azmi. It was circa 1998 and he slowly began planning to leave Dubai and settle down elsewhere. He zeroed in on Atlanta, Georgia.

Salem owned five apartments in America, besides a cinema and a few petrol pumps. On 11th September, 2001 the world changed. Salem first landed in Oslo. He drove to Switzerland, Spain and Germany, but nothing seemed right. Finally, Shahzad, a small-time entrepreneur, suggested: Lisbon. Salem entered the territorial jurisdiction of Portugal in the assumed name of Arsalan Mohsin Ali on a Pakistani Passport. On 18th September, 2002 he was detained by the Portuguese Police at Lisbon on the strength of a Red Corner Notice. Shahzad was horrified when he discovered that the man who had been his bosom pal for ten months and who had behaved so warmly, taking his ribbing and his punches sportingly, was a dreaded don.

India did not have an Extradition Treaty with Portugal in 2002. Portugal disagreed with India’s system of death penalty, having banned State Executions as far back as 1867. Portugal was not willing to send Salem back until the Indian Government gave firm assurances, in writing, that the Indian Courts would neither award the death penalty to Salem nor give him a jail sentence longer than 25 years. L.K. Advani, the then deputy prime minister, who was allegedly crucial in the decision of demolishing the Babri Masjid, thus wrote a letter to Antonio Martins da Cruz, Portugal’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, promising that the Indian State would keep to these terms…

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One of the major accusations against Salem in the serial blasts case was that of delivering weapons to Sanjay Dutt. The Lisbon Authorities had approved of charging him only under The Arms Act and for illegal possession of weapons. But the CBI also charged him with conspiracy which would attract the death penalty. On 14th September, 2011 the Portugal High Court declared that India violated the Principle of Speciality as it is understood in the Portuguese Legal System, reason for which it decided to terminate authorization granted for extradition of Abu Salem Qayyum Ansari. The principle precludes a State which secures the surrender of an accused or convicted person from trying him or her for prior facts other than those for which the extradition was granted, or imposing a penalty or measure other than those for the purpose of which he or she was extradited, without the consent of the Extraditing State. The Portugal Supreme Court and Constitutional Court turned down the appeals of the Indian Government.

As on date, there exists two divergent views with regard to the violation of the Principle of Speciality, rendered by the Supreme Court of India and the Constitutional Court of Portugal. The available options for the Union of India are either to approach an International Forum to settle the divergent view or in alternate reconcile through diplomatic channels.

The decision of the Courts of Portugal does not contain any direction to the Union of India to return Salem to Portugal. The Extradition Order still stands valid and effective in the eyes of law.

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A Special Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) Court on 16th June, 2017 found Abu Salem and five others guilty of conspiring and carrying out a string of bomb blasts that ripped through the heart of Mumbai in 1993 and killed 257 people.

Arguments on the quantum of sentence will take place on 19.07.2017. The Anti-Death Penalty Squad need not worry about Abu Salem hanging by the noose. It remains to be seen though how the terms of his extradition is praised or criticized in the years to come.

Abu Salem.jpg
Oh! Portugal.
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