The National Investigation Agency on Monday insisted in a special court in Mumbai that even though it supports press freedom, the trial in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case should be held in camera, PTI reported. A hearing is said to be “in camera” – Latin for “in the chambers” – if only the judges, lawyers, the parties to the case and witnesses are present. The public and the press are barred from such hearings.

The agency had in July sought an in-camera hearing, saying it was essential to maintain harmony in society and ensure the safety of witnesses. A group of journalists had filed a petition on August 5 challenging the request, after which the special NIA court asked the agency to respond.

On Monday, the NIA said: “The sensitivity of this case is known to everybody, especially the journalists, and the allegations against the accused persons is that they have committed the offences to take revenge against Muslim jihadi activities and to create rift between the two communities.”

The agency added: “The prosecution is in favour of freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press and Right to Information but considering the sensitive nature of the case, prosecution has sought for the trial to be heard in camera and the press may not be allowed to attend the same.”

The agency also said that the journalists were not party to the proceedings and had “no locus in the matter for interference at this stage”, according to The Indian Express. “The intervention has been sought to delay the proceedings and to disturb the smooth working of the court,” the NIA claimed.

The NIA’s response also claimed that it was important to have a private hearing “in the best interest of society”, The Hindu reported.

Six people were killed and 100 injured when an explosive device strapped to a motorcycle went off near a mosque in Malegaon in north Maharashtra on September 29, 2008. Bharatiya Janata Party MP Pragya Singh Thakur is one of the accused in the case. The trial court has examined around 130 out of 475 prosecution witnesses so far.

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