Leading criminal lawyer and Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani's decision to defend the suspended lecturer, S.A.R. Geelani, one of the accused in the December 13 terrorist attack on Parliament, has raised Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's hackles. Despite vociferous protests with Sainiks defacing Jethmalani's office premises in Mumbai and a signed editorial by the Sena chief asking him to quit the Rajya Sabha before "shedding tears for traitors", Jethmalani has stood his ground. Excerpts of an interview with Murali Krishnan:
What were the specific reasons that prompted you to defend Geelani?
You don't need reasons to defend anyone. It is part of our professional duty and under our Constitution, which many people do not understand, every accused has the right to be defended by a lawyer of his choice. If the lawyer of his choice refuses, he must have a very valid reason, he becomes a party to denigrating a fundamental right. It is a breach of a statutory rule of the bar council. And a breach which calls for disqualification from the profession.
Defence counsel have pointed to the shoddy police investigations in the trial stage, especially when it came to telephone intercepts.
I have been through the judgement barely from the point of view of Geelani. I believe there is no legal evidence against him. The absolute truth is known only to God.
What else made you take up the case?
Geelani's wife, a young lady, swore to me by the Quran that her husband is innocent. It is no part of my duty to enquire whether my client is guilty or not. That is for the judge to decide. I am supposed to do the best for my client and in this case I have taken special care. And certainly I saw to it that hoodlums (Shiv Sainiks) don't become the judge in this criminal case!
The Shiv Sena is angered by your move to defend the accused.
If they are angered, let them be. I can't help it. I don't allow my public life to be governed by the Sena's anger.
But the fact is you are a Rajya Sabha MP supported by the Sena.
Sorry, I am not a Shiv Sena MP. I am an independent MP and it is not their votes alone..it is the BJP, independent and Janata Dal votes that got me to Parliament.
What are the merits of the Geelani case?
The accused, Geelani, is being defended now by an All India Defence Committee comprising the most prominent intellectuals in the country and chaired by no one less than the political scientist, Rajni Kothari. Apart from Geelani's family, the request has come from this prestigious body of intellectuals. I am also the choice of the people of Baramulla, where a huge public meeting was held recently. The meeting generated a lot of heat and leaders there told the people the best possible legal assistance will be secured.
Are there other reasons?
I have my Kashmir cause to serve and I will miss no opportunity to endear myself to the people of Kashmir, particularly the Muslim residents of the Valley. Some fools in the country may not share these objectives!
Anyone in particular?
You are too intelligent not to know who I'm talking about. There are some people who live in tension and whose politics depends on hatred. I don't subscribe to their theory. I require no reason for appearing (for Geelani) except that I regard it as my sacred, professional and public duty.
Will your representing Geelani increase your leverage in the Kashmir Committee that you head?
I am glad if it does. People trust me so they value my advice. I speak for the whole of the Kashmir Committee, which our critics may not acknowledge. But the very fact that the Hurriyat, a militant organisation, has said that it no longer believes in violence and wants a peaceful settlement of the problem is important.That itself is a great achievement and for that alone the Kashmir Committee deserves the Bharat Ratna. You know who it is being given to (laughs).
But why did you not defend Geelani during the trial stage?
That is because nobody asked me to. When a person has been sentenced to death and even if he does not ask for legal assistance, the high court will appoint a lawyer for him. Just as I was asked by the Delhi High Court in the case of those who were convicted for the murder of Indira Gandhi. Remember Balbir Singh, who was finally acquitted by the Supreme Court, was (initially) sentenced to death.
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