Quayyum Raja's Unfolding Life : Chapter 7 "INDICTMENT & RAW, ISI & MI5"
In July 1984, six of us had been indicted by the Birmingham Crown Court in the following order. Abdul Quayyum Raja, life and 18 years. Muhammad Riaz, life and 12 years. Siddique Bhatti, 18 years Jhangeer Akhtar Mirza and Majeed Ansari 5 years each. Muhammad Ishaq, 5000 pounds fine.
Initially, I had been charged with a conspiracy to kidnap and unlawful imprisonment of the indian deputy commissioner Ravinder Mahatre. When Pakistsni government expressed its inability to find and extradite the alleged killer, the British police added the charge of killing against me and Riaz. Riaz had been charged first only with an unlawful imprisonment. Siddique had only one charge of kidnapping against him. When he confessed, he said “Raja was not with me while we kidnapped the diplomat. He named Massarat Iqbal, Aslam Mirza and Azhar Mehmood. The charge of kidnapping had been dropped against me, but a more serious charge of murder had been added. In his summing up, the trial judge Sir Peter Bristow remarked: “although the police failed to produce any evidence that Raja was a party to the killing, he continued to lie to protect his friends (Siddique and Riaz), who have pleaded guilty in the court and mentioned Raja and three others involved in the plot. Mr. Raja says he disagreed to the killing, but he has not co-operated with the Police to identify those who decided to kill the diplomat. Members of the jury, if Raja lied to protect his friends, he must be lying to protect himself as well. ” This was the bizarre theory on which I had been found guilty, while Riaz said the killer told him what he was going to do but he was unable to stop him. Majeed and Jhangeer had been charged for removing evidence from the house where the diplomat had been held prisoner. The prosecutor said the evidence could have been used against us. Majeed and Jhangeer were completely innocent, but they were pressurized and blackmailed to build the case against us. Ishaq was accused of giving me his passport to use it and this was correct.
Pakistan had no role in the kidnapping and killing of the Indian diplomat, but the Indian secret service agents fled to the United Kingdom and told their British counterparts that Pakistani Intelligence Agency, ISI, was behind the killing of the indian diplomat. It was suggested that if I admitted to ISI’s involvement, which they said used the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, I would be spared of a murder charge. Otherwise, I would die in prison. I was offered a large amount of money and political projection. ” You are a young and educated man. You have your whole life ahead of you. Think about it,”, said a British official.. I knew it amount to a prosecution witness (وعدہ معاف گواہ). I rejected the offer with contempt. 38 years on, I still believe my decision was correct. Although I suffered in prison for 22 years, I walk raising my head with dignity. A senior official making this offer threatened me that I was making a big mistake, but I didn’t care. The conversation took place in cell no 25 of Steel House Lane Police Station in Birmingham. I still remember this cell vividly, because as soon as the said official got out, heavy cold air was sent into this cell from somewhere. The purpose was to break me down, but Allah helped me to remain patient and preserve my dignity. At the time of my statement in the court, the trial judge told my QC (the Queen’s Counsel) to take me down in the room and advise on my plea. In Britain, solicitor prepares the case and a QC, who is a senior Barrister, usually represents the accused. My QC named Lord Tony Gifford. While down in a private room, Lord Gifford said the judge simply wanted to know if I “would defend myself or others.” Others meant ISI and Liberation Front. This was the last chance to reconsider the offer made to me previously by a senior Home Office official. I told Lord Gifford “let us go back to the court and face the charge.”
When I was taken from the dock to the witness box, my QC Lord Gifford addressed the jury and said I was a helpless foreign national, who had been mistreated by the police. He added that the police didn’t allow me to see a solicitor of my own choice and the reason was to isolate me from the outside world until I could give into the police. The trial judge interrupted and said Lord Gifford couldn’t portray me as a helpless poor foreigner. The judge said: “I could speak only my native language such as English, while Mr Raja can speak four European languages.” The prosecutor raised a copy of the daily Times and said, “members of the jury , you know who reads the Sun and Mirror in our country and who reads the daily Times and Guardian. Mr. Raja had a copy of the daily Times in his possession, while arrested at the Holyhead. Only highly educated and upper class people read papers like Times and Guardian “, said the prosecutor. This was just one example how positive things were also used negatively against us. It often happens so when people are in trouble.
At the start of my statement in the court, the prosecutor put a file in front of me and asked me to look at an exhibit N0 which I can’t remember now, but when I looked at the particular no, it was a report from the Laboratory. The report stated that the scientific investigation showed a connection of my clothes with the clothes of the Indian diplomat. However, Allah helped me and the date of the laboratory report caught my eye. The report came back from the lab a week after the police interview with me in which the Police claimed they found connection between my clothes and that of the diplomat. I raised both reports and asked how on earth did the Police know of this connection even before sending my clothes to the laboratory. There was a dead silence in the court. Everybody raised their heads and looked at me. Chief Inspector John Ron Brown tried to scare me by showing his fist to me from court. I *turned to the judge and said “Sir, you have a bully in your court!” As the judge asked what I meant, I said how the Chief Inspector tried to scare me. The judge ordered the police to get out of the court.
When I raised the question how the police knew of the connection between my clothes and that of the diplomat’s clothes, the BBC reporter Rabia Robinson reported in one PM news with a headline: “Wrong Man Charged With Murder.” Of my appearance, she said “Abdul Quayyum Raja, a 27 years old well-dressed Kashmir with thin hair appeared in the court. She tried to speak to me during the one 0’clock break, but she was not allowed. As her report supported me, she was not allowed to enter the court room again. Apart from a gutter British newspaper, the daily Sun, the media didn’t call us terrorists. Instead, a three member media team investigated “why the young KASHMIRIS living happily in Europe, risked their lives for Kashmir.” The team concluded that “these young KASHMIRIS felt their people were denied their basic right to freedom.” Throughout our detention, the British and Pakistsni media fully supported us. The daily Guardian highlighted how and why the British Interior minister overruled the judge and imposed political sentences on Riaz and me. The daily Guardian published my letters from time to time. The electronic media also supported us. The indian media criticized us in the beginning, but when the High Court quashed the sentences imposed by the interior minister, the Indian media to its credit, also changed its tune and said ‘the two KASHMIRIS are languishing in British jail due to the Home Minister’s interference in the matter of the courts. A chief justice once remarked that “Raja and Riaz are not judicial, but home Minister’s personal prisoners.’
TRIAL COURT DECISION:
Since everybody pleaded guilty except Riaz and me, only two of us faced the trial. It started on 16 of January 1985. The hearing took place consistently for 16 days. On 7 February 1985, all six of us were taken to the court for the final decision, but the decision was incredibly unlawfully political. The international press covered the trial impartially, while one French newspaper wrote a sympathetic feature on me, probably due to the fact that I had no criminal record and had respected French friends. When I wrote an article on secret and extended sentences 9 years later, the daily Guardian again prominently published my statement titled “Tried by Judges and Sentenced by Politicians.” This statement formed the basis of my political campaign supported by members of British Parliament and Human Rights Organisations.
The day of the sentence was the first day all six of us were kept in the same room. The security team told us to follow the names they would read out. A senior officer had a list in his hand, which read out as follows:
Abdul Quayyum Raja, Muhammad Riaz, Siddique Bhatti and then the other three. The security instructed us to follow the senior security officer in the order they named us.
TRIAL JUDGE STATEMENT ON Jammu Kashmir.
During the trial, the judge had been very harsh. At one stage, a young Kashmiri Shafaq Hussain shouted from the court gallery and described the judge as a “Racist Bastard” because the judge was trying to provoke me. On the day of judgement , the judge tried to calm people down. He made a sympathetic statement on the plight of Jammu Kashmir. He said he understood how we felt about our homeland being occupied by neighbors, but as a judge, he had to see what happened in the UK rather than Kashmir. At the end of his statement, the trial judge turned to the security and said “first I want Raja.”
The security asked me to stand up. I got up and looked straight to the judge. He dropped the bomb on me. He said he gave me 18 years for unlawful imprisonment, but the Home Minister told him not to declare the length of my life sentence. The minister would write to me, but as a trial judge he said he didn’t know when if ever, I would see the free world again. Then the judge ordered the security to take me down. Two security officers got hold of both of my arms. I pushed them away، turned to the packed public gallery and made a Victory sign. The daily Guardian described my victory sign as a “Defiant Solute to the Nation.” The daily Watan struck the headline on the sentences of all of us: “those who were proud of their guilt.” Then it published the photos of six of us in the order we were produced in the court.
After me, the judge announced sentences of Riaz and other four. Since I was the first one to be handed out the sentence and taken down in the cell, my solicitor Ms Gareth Pierce was worried of my isolation. She immediately came down to see me in the cell, where I was walking around the cell and singing a song meaning “never mind if I got a sentence. Allah will take me out one day.” It is Mian Muhammad Baksh verse which reads as
کی ہویا جی میں قیدی ہویا قید سدا نی رہنا
اک دن مولا کرم کریسی رل سنگیاں وچ بہناں۔
When Gareth Pierce heard me singing while entering my room, she said, “oh, I thought you would be shocked but you are smiling and singing.” I said smiling is better than crying. She was relieved. She kissed on my cheek and left.
Each one of us had a separate barrister but since only Riaz and I stood the trial, other four were brought to the court only to hear the sentences. Riaz’s barrister was very remote. He never got friendly with Riaz. He used to meet him only in the court and never had a personal conversation with him. In comparison, both my senior Barrister Lord Gifford and Isabel Forshell often came down in the underground cell during the break and discussed various things with me. Lord Gifford was in his mid 40s and Isabel around 30 years old. They had positive views about people struggling for their freedom. They expressed sympathy with me but were unable to affect the politically motivated decision. Lord Gifford was married to a Jamaican lady. Before I was found guilty, Barrister Isabel sat beside me and said, “Mr. Raja, I am very sorry. You are going to prison for a very, very long time!” With the grace of Allah, I managed to remain calm and composed. When the security removed me from the court room, I looked up to the gallery and saw some of our supporters waving good by for the last time. They looked very sad.
BACK TO PRISON
We were taken back to Winsongreen jail in the evening on 7 February 1985. Before locking us up, the security took us to a Dr for medical examination. The idea was to make sure if we needed any treatment due to the shocking decision, but instead, an Indian Dr asked me a provocative question: “Is your head alright?” I looked into his eyes and said, “you are a Dr, you tell me if my head is alright.” While looking into his eyes seriously, I could not help laughing when I saw hair lurking down from his nose. Dr asked me what I was laughing about? I told him he should look after himself. He got embarrassed and told the security officers to take me back. He never tried to provoke me again.