A sessions court in Delhi on Tuesday observed that it was “unfair and unjust” on the media’s part to report on exact contents of the chargesheet in a case when the court was yet to take cognisance on the matter, and the accused had not been provided its copies. The court said that such reporting raised the question of “leakage” of the chargesheet.
Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat made the observations while taking cognisance of Indian Penal Code sections 124 A (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity on the grounds of religion, language, caste etc), 109 (abetment) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) against all 18 accused in the Delhi violence conspiracy case.
The court had earlier taken cognisance of multiple offences against the accused under the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, but had deferred the decision for sedition and other charges, PTI reported.
Making the observation about reporting on exact content of chargesheets, Rawat said: “It is one thing to report generally about the chargesheet but quite another to reproduce it as it is and thus, obviously the question of leakage would arise.”
The judge’s comment came after former Jawaharlal Nehru University student Umar Khalid pointed out to the court about media trials on the case. “It is happening again and again when the media reports projects you as an accused well before the trial. This is against the rights of accused and violates constitutional mandates,” Khalid said, reported Live Law.
Khalid told the court that he thought this was not a case of media trial but imputation. “There were newspapers where the pictures of [Jamia Millia Islamia student] Asif Iqbal, [Pinjra Tod member] Natasha Narwal, me [Khalid], Devangana [Kalita] etc were published with the headline “Dilli dango ke bade gunegaar, ye hain unke chehere [The culprits responsible for the Delhi violence...these are their faces],” Khalid said, according to Live Law.
Other accused Asif Iqbal Tanha, Khalid Saifi and Sharjeel Imam also raised similar grievances.
Taking note of their concerns, the court in its order said that media reports should have disclaimers on whether it was the version was “of the police/prosecution, or the accused himself, or presenting as it is the order of the Court.”
“There is a world of difference between an accused and a convict,” Judge Rawat said.
However, Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad denied that police was leaking information to media and in turn cited an article published by digital news portal, Newslaundry, to argue that the accused too were getting their “narratives” published, Live Law reported. To this, advocate S Pujari, appearing for the accused said that articles citing the police or the accused’s versions are different from media reports based on selective quotes from prosecution documents which have not yet been shared with the accused.
Apart from taking cognisance of the aforementioned offences, the court also directed that the copy of the supplementary chargesheet be supplied to the accused.
It further asked the concerned jail superintendent to file a medical report on Tanha’s health condition, as he had told the court that he was not given proper medical treatment and was administered only pain killers, despite having a “serious medical issue”, Live Law reported.
The matter will next be heard on March 12.
A main chargesheet was filed in September against Kalita and Narwal, Jamia Millia Islamia student Asif Iqbal Tanha, and student activist Gulfisha Fatima. Others who have been named in the chargesheet include former Congress councillor Ishrat Jahan, Jamia Coordination Committee members Safoora Zargar, Meeran Haider and Shifa-Ur-Rehman, suspended Aam Aadmi Party councillor Tahir Hussain, activists Khalid Saifi, Shadab Ahmed, Tasleem Ahmed, Salim Malik, Mohd Salim Khan and Athar Khan.
A supplementary chargesheet was filed in November against activist Umar Khalid and Jawaharlal Nehru University student Sharjeel Imam in the alleged conspiracy behind the communal violence. In February, the court had extended the judicial custody of Khalid, Imam and others till March 1.
Clashes had broken out between supporters of the Citizenship Amendment Act and those opposing it between February 23 and 26 last year in North East Delhi, killing at least 53 people and injuring hundreds. The police were accused of either inaction or complicity in some instances of violence, mostly in Muslim neighbourhoods. The violence was the worst in Delhi since the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
The Delhi Police claim that the violence was part of a larger conspiracy to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and was planned by those who organised the protests against the amended Citizenship Amendment Act. They also claimed the protestors had secessionist motives and were using “the facade of civil disobedience” to destabilise the government. The police have arrested several activists and students based on these “conspiracy” charges.