A murder riddled with holes
The irony is that slain lawyer Shahid Azmi came to fame exposing police lapses, says Rana Ayyub
The basic rule of a criminal investigation is that if there is a witness to a crime, in this case murder, he is the first person police should contact to identify the culprits. But during the investigations into the murder of Shahid Azmi, the human rights and criminal lawyer who was shot dead in his Mumbai office on February 11, police seem to have forgotten that most basic, mandatory practice. The key witness to Azmi’s murder — his peon Inder, who saw three assailants fire at the lawyer — was not even called for identification after police arrested the accused. In a news conference four days after the murder, police produced three men who they said were Azmi’s killers and said they planned to invoke the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (mcoca) against them. But the manner in which police have handled the case and the glaring loopholes in investigation have raised a number of questions, with Azmi’s family, human rights organisations and fellow lawyers calling for a judicial or cbi probe.
Ironically, Azmi first came to note as a lawyer by bringing justice to those falsely accused of terrorism by pointing out investigative and other lapses in prosecution cases. He was particularly active in probing the abuse of mcoca and other draconian laws.
Police claim to have all but solved the murder by arresting three of the hitmen — Devendra Jagtap alias JD, Pintu Dagale and Vinod Vichare — just three days after the attack. One assailant is absconding.
Azmi’s elder brother Arif is extremely critical of the investigations. “The office peon Inder… witnessed the entire incident while one of the hitmen kept him at gunpoint. Why was he not called in to identify the four men who have been arrested? They have not even bothered to communicate with us?” he says. It was on the basis of Inder’s confession that police were able to understand the sequence of events and make sketches of the suspects. Police may eventually call on Inder for questioning but they have blundered from the outset.
The three hitmen arrested had been chargesheeted earlier and were wanted for other crimes. Police had been looking out for them for some years. Jagtap, the alleged kingpin who earlier worked for Chhota Rajan, was wanted in many cases. Not only does their arrest within three days of the crime, after being on the run for so long, appear unusual, most of the killers were arrested close to the same area where Azmi was killed.
Even more unusual is the police claim that the killers have confessed to the crime but have not revealed the murder motive. The Mumbai Crime Branch displayed the murder weapons at a news conference, but there was no mention of a forensic test on them. Police are not coming up with any answers, claiming, as they do, that the case has already been “solved”. In the meantime, public pressure for a judicial or cbi probe into the murder is gathering steam. •