A special court in Mumbai on Tuesday dismissed the National Investigating Agency’s petition to allow in camera hearings in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case and restrict the media from reporting on the trial, The Indian Express reported. A group of 11 journalists, from several media organisations, had submitted an intervention against the investigating agency’s plea for media restrictions.
An in camera hearing would mean that only the judge, prosecution, defence lawyers, necessary witnesses and required court staff would be allowed to attend the proceedings.
The court said that the proceedings should be held in a transparent way while dismissing the plea. The investigating agency had cited provisions under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, NIA Act and highlighted the “sensitive nature of the case” so that the court would allow in camera trial.
Lawyer Rizwan Merchant, representing the intervenor and journalists, had opposed the in camera trial plea and argued that Article 19 (freedom of speech and expression) of the Constitution had certain reasonable restrictions. He said Section 17 of the NIA Act, which the agency cited for the in camera trial, was not an exception to the right to freedom of expression.
Responding to the petition of the journalists, the agency said the media had no locus standii (right to bring an action) in the case. The agency said that it supported freedom of speech, expression, the press, and right to information, but reiterated the case’s sensitive nature.
The court asked the journalists not to debate, discuss, interview or provide opinions while reporting on the case, according to Mumbai Mirror. Electronic devices were also not allowed inside the courtroom during the trial.
In August, the NIA had opposed the journalists’ plea and pushed for the hearings to be held in camera. 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.
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 from Bhopal 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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