A Delhi court on Friday criticised the media for publishing alleged confessional statements of activist Umar Khalid in a case related to the violence in the national Capital in February 2020, without clarifying that his statements were not admissible as evidence, Live Law reported.
The court was hearing a plea filed by Khalid, stating that his right to free and fair trial was getting affected as sections of the media quoted selectively from his disclosure statement and falsely claimed them to be part of his confessional statement.
In an order passed on Friday, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Dinesh Kumar said that a reporter should have the basic knowledge that a confessional statement made to a police official is not admissible as an evidence and that a reader should be informed about that, according to Live Law.
“A reporter should have such a basic knowledge of law as readers/viewers consider news item as true without verifying the facts,” the order stated. “...None of the news item is shown to have made a clarification to its readers/viewers that such a statement, even if actually made, could not be used by the prosecution as evidence.”
The court took specific exception of an article by the website OpIndia that referred to Khalid as “radical Islamist and anti-Hindu Delhi riots accused” and said that it was the duty of the judiciary to decide the merits of a case after trial.
“The said news item portrays the entire Delhi riots as anti-Hindu riots,” the order said. “However, in fact this does not appear to be the case, as all the communities have felt the consequences of those riots.”
The order also went on to state that “media trials” should not destroy “presumption of innocence” of an accused, PTI reported. “Protection of such presumption is essential for the maintenance of the dignity of the courts and is one of the cardinal principles of the rule of law in a free democratic country,” the court said.
The court did not pass any direction, as Khalid had not made any specific prayer in his plea, but asked media organisations to exercise self-regulation. It further said that it is violative of fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution if a media report leads to damage a person’s dignity.
“I hope that the reporters would use self-regulation techniques while publishing or showing a news item related to a case pending investigation or trial so that no prejudice is caused to any accused or any other party,” the court said in its order.
Clashes had broken out between the supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and February 26 in North East Delhi, claiming 53 lives and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods.
Khalid was arrested under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in September in a a case relating to a larger conspiracy in the violence. The Delhi Police had on November 22 filed a chargesheet against Khalid and student activists Sharjeel Imam and Faizan Khan in the case. Khalid was also arrested in connection with another Delhi riots case on October 1.