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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 24, June 5, 2010

In Defence of N.D. Pancholi’s Legal Representation of Mohammad Afzal Guru

Thursday 10 June 2010


The following is a press statement issued on May 28, 2010.

We, the undersigned, are very disturbed by the recent controversy that has been generated in the media on the issue of legal representation of Mohammad Afzal Guru. An NGO, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, in a letter to the media signed by its office-bearers, Gurusharan Singh, S.A.R. Geelani, Amit Bhattacharyya and Rona Wilson, has claimed that Mr N.D. Pancholi “was never at any point the counsel of Mr Afzal Guru”.

In a statement issued by Mr Pancholi on May 26, 2010 he has clearly stated his position on this matter and we are reproducing his statement for the record:

I hereby reiterate that I had faithfully stated to the correspondent of Indian Express whatever was told to me by Afzal Guru when I met him as his advocate on May 21, 2010 in Tihar Jail. And Afzal had authorised me to make the said statement. It is also incorrect that Afzal has not appointed me as his counsel. I often meet Afzal, and jail authorities permit me to meet him in my capacity as his advocate. I fail to understand as to why Mr S.A.R. Geelani and his associates have made such a statement.

We have been associated with the campaign for the release of S.A.R. Geelani, a Delhi University lecturer who was accused of being a part of the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. Mr Pancholi was the first lawyer to visit S.A.R. Geelani in Tihar Jail. Subsequently he became an integral part of the campaign in defence of Geelani and later he took up the issue of death penalty awarded to Afzal Guru. As a person deeply concerned about democracy, Mr Pancholi was among the first civil rights activists to visit Kashmir in the context of human rights violations and has been on several fact finding missions in several parts of India. It was his concern for the Kashmir issue and the need to provide Kashmiris with a fair trial that led him to represent Afzal pro bono after he was awarded the death penalty.

We have known Mr Pancholi since the 1970s when he was an active trade union leader in Delhi and was a dedicated fighter for democracy. He was a founder member of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and even earlier he was the Secretary of Citizens for Democracy (CFD) of which Mr Jayprakash Narayan was the President. His commitment, dedication and absolute integrity are unquestionable.

We are shocked that the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners should cause controversy about Mr Pancholi. This controversy can only harm Afzal and the civil liberties movement which is under attack. We do not want to speculate on Mr Geelani’s motivations but he should apologise immediately and set the controversy to rest.

Prof Rajni Kothari, Surendra Mohan (9971526169), Nandita Haksar (9910940248)

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