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Sep 16, 2009

TN sets 9 of blast convicts free

Nine convicts serving 13-year rigorous imprisonment in the Coimbatore serial blasts case that rocked the textile city on February 14, 1998, killing 58 persons, were released by the Tamil Nadu Government on Tuesday, to celebrate the conclusion of birth centenary celebrations of DMK founder and former Chief Minister CN Annadurai.

This is the second consecutive year that this Government has granted mass remission to prisoners as part of Anna’s birth centenary programme. Last year, 1400 prisoners, including life-term convicts, were released on September 15. Though this time, the number has been kept to 10 and only for fixed-term convicts who have already served 10 years in prison, release of prisoners associated with the ghastly Coimbatore blasts has come as a shock.

The announcement for the release of 10 fixed-term convicts already having served 10 years in prison was made on Monday evening through a press release, which stated that they would be released with the consent of the Tamil Nadu Governor, as per norm under Article 161 of the Constitution. But there was no mention of names. On Tuesday, 10 convicts, members of the banned Al-Umma which set off the serial blasts during the BJP leader LK Advani’s visit for election campaign, were released. They included Shahul Hameed, Abdul Rahman, Fakruddin Ali Ahmed, Abdul Farook, Yousuf, Abbas, Ashraf, Mohammed Farook and Abdul Rahoof. Yousuf alias Shahjahan, whose name was also in the list of 10 to be released, was not let out as he is facing trial in other cases, according to jail authorities.

It may be recalled that there were 19 blasts in Coimbatore, including one at one of the venues where Advani was to address a campaign meeting on February 14, 1998. A total of 166 persons were arrested in connection with the blasts.In October 2007, Special Court trying the serial blasts case had convicted those involved in the blasts under various sections of IPC, Explosives Act and Arms Act. Of these 43, including Al-Umma founder SA Basha and senior leader Mohammed Ansari, were given life term. Fifteen others were given 13-year RI, 10 were given 10-year term and two were given seven-year term.

Those released (serving 13-years RI) have been in prison since mid-1998 and therefore have completed a little more than 11 years. The authorities have also averred that prisoners are entitled to remission of 48 days for every year served on grounds of good conduct.However, Tuesday’s release would certainly rake up controversy as this involved the release of those termed as terrorists and members of a banned organisation. The antecedents of the convicts and the impact of their release are in question. Last year’s release of 1400 prisoners, including those serving life-term had attracted criticism. Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy had filed a PIL against the remissions, which is pending in the Supreme Court.

Since the Karunanidhi Government began action on the remission of prisoners, both Muslim and Hindu organisations had made a bee-line for the release of convicts on humanitarian grounds.
Following the Tuesday’s remission of blast convicts, the Puzhal Central Prison (Chennai) prisoners, numbering about 750, staged a demonstration demanding that when the State Government could release terrorists, it should release the prisoners in Puzhal immediately. They also criticised the release of the blast convicts. Only after the prison officials convinced them that their demand would be communicated to the Government, did the prisoners relent.

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