Funding case: Most of NIA evidence based on social media, claims report
New Delhi, Feb 05: A large chunk of information collected and used as evidence against the Kashmir separatists by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the alleged funding case has been sourced from open social media platforms like Whatsapp, YouTube and public websites, a news report claimed on Monday. The Indian Express reported that NIA’s 1,200-page chargesheet shows the agency has relied heavily on “open source” information on the accused, which is generally available in the public domain, to press its charges. The charges, as per the report, include: participation in funerals, a letter written by the Pakistan prime minister, their history of militancy, raising of Pakistan flags and ISIS posters during protests, calls for financial help to families of slain militants, and pictures with members of proscribed organisations. Six months ago, when NIA registered a case of alleged funding against 12 accused, including Kashmiri separatists, it claimed that they were receiving funds from Pakistan-based outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizbul Mujahideen. And, it claimed, they had close links with LeT chief Hafiz Saeed and Hizb leader Syed Salahuddin. On Friday, the report said that a special court took cognizance of the chargesheet. For the allegation ‘Hurriyat conspiracy and secessionist agenda’, the chargesheet, as per the Express report, cited as evidence the website http://www.hurriyatconference.com, which speaks about “Freedom Struggle” and that “People of J&K have been fighting against Indian Occupation”. “The website describes Syed Ali Shah Geelani as the chairman of APHC and Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. It reads: ‘…On October 27, 1947, Indian troops landed in Kashmir and ever since people of J&K have been fighting against Indian Occupation’”,” the report read. Quoting from the chargeshee, it added: “This kind of content clearly shows the secessionist agenda of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and its leaders and cadres. The main aim and object is to succeed in breaking Jammu and Kashmir away from Union of India. All their activities and programmes are aimed at inciting and instigating people against the government of India and the security forces in order to achieve the so called ‘freedom from the Indian occupation’.” Similarly, a WhatsApp appeal sent by accused Ayaz Akbar Khanday to Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq stated that Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik on Sunday in a “joint statement asked all political and militant organisations to follow freedom struggle with vision and wisdom. Appealing to maintain unity, the leaders said that it is time to remain united and follow cherished goal with spirit of persistence and unity among all concerned factions…” The report added that a video allegedly retrieved from the mobile phone of accused Altaf Ahmad Shah Funtoosh, of a speech delivered by his father-in-law Syed Ali Shah Geelani. “…Jehad could also be done through words, by writing, by helping Mujahiddin, by fulfilling every needs of Mujahiddin. The life of every Muslim should be like Mujahiddin life. Even though he may not pick weapons its ok, but if he fighting against rule or part of struggle he may consider as doing jehad.” Facebook posts of accused Bashir Ahmad Bhat alias Peer Shaifullah. The chargesheet states: “It reveals that he has uploaded a photo of Afzal Guru, the terrorist convicted in Parliament attack case, as his profile picture.” The chargesheet, as per the report, refers to a Facebook post on December 5, 2013, when Bhat shared a statement from Geelani to the effect that all of India’s wealth cannot compensate for the death of a “shaheed”. “This clearly shows that Geelani and Bhat were inciting anti-India sentiments among the masses through such inflammatory posts…,” it states. Under the title ‘Hurriyat-Terror Nexus’, the NIA, said the news report, claimed their investigation has revealed many “open source” videos establishing that the accused are part of a “gang of conspirators” waging a war against the government to achieve secession. Describing one of the videos, which it claimed was published on YouTube on April 17, 2015, the NIA states: “Hafiz Saeed addresses and informs a gathering that Masarat Alam was raising pro-Pakistan slogans and waving Pakistani flag in Srinagar where thousands of people had gathered…” Details of another video, presented as a conversation between slain Hizbul operative Burhan Wani and Hafiz Saeed where the two discuss financial assistance to LeT cadres in Kashmir and the idea of fighting the “enemy” together. There is no explanation on the connection between the video and the accused — or how they are linked to Saeed. The NIA states the Hurriyat leaders attend funerals of slain terrorists. They “hail them as ‘shaheed or martyrs’ and support their families. They issue directives to the people to block all access to their localities to protect their youth from security forces…SAS Geelani hails killed militants as ‘martyrs’ and exhorts the public at large not to let the blood of martyrs go waste”, it states. The chargesheet states that Geelani makes appeals for “financial support to the families of killed and jailed terrorists”. It cites an appeal by Geelani on the Hurriyat website: “Help the families of martyrs and prisoners… people should come forward for donations in the month of Ramadan as the number of people affected by this movement is large.” The chargesheet seeks to link accused Nayeem Khan with terrorist organisations, and states: “…a video downloaded from open source shows Nayeem Khan visiting the area where three terrorists were killed on 11.07.2017 at Budgam, Srinagar. This video shows him with the supporters of ISIS… This clearly shows that terrorist organisations and Hurriyat leaders are acting in unison.” A photograph of accused Aftab Ahmad Shah alias Shahid-ul-Islam with Hizb chief Salahuddin. Apart from this, the chargesheet describes in detail how stone-pelting is allegedly organised in the Valley through WhatsApp groups and protest calendars, which also ask people “to celebrate Pakistan Day”. It alleges that the evidence shows Hurriyat leaders instigating youth to join Hizb-ul-Mujahideen and that their strike calls received support from LeT. “…there are email chats retrieved from the phone of accused… Altaf Ahmad Shah Fantoosh wherein the accused receives a mail from Abdullah Ghaznavi, LeT spokesperson, extending Lashkar-e-Toiba’s support to the strike call given by SAS Geelani (01.11.2015).” The agency filed the chargesheet against 12 Kashmiris, including Altaf Shah, Hafiz Muhammed Saeed, Syed Salahuddin, Nayeem Khan, Shahidul Islam, Zahoor Ahmed Watali and photo journalist Kamran Yusuf among others. As reported reported earlier, the agency claimed to have found suspicious transactions running into crores linked to the case, but were yet to establish the chain of finances or the source. According to the agency, details of these funds were allegedly found in handwritten entries in account books maintained by Watali, a Kashmiri businessman. The books allegedly contain the names of Saeed and Geelani written against payments, details of remittances received over a non-existent plot of land, details of websites run by Tehreek-e-Hurriyat and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen hosted by the same firm in Pakistan; and the alleged role of a Pakistan High Commission official in the funding.