NIA for freedom of press but will not walk the talk

Mumbai: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) seems to be confused about allowing the media to cover the 2008 Malegaon blast trial. On the one hand, the central agency says it believes in the freedom of speech and expression and the freedom of press, but in the same breath, it maintains, it does not want the trial to be public.

This was evident from the agency's response to the application filed by 11 journalists from the city, opposing the NIA’s plea to prohibit media from covering the trial in the blast case in which six people had died in Malegaon in September 2008.

The case, which has been going on for over a decade now, has Member of Parliament Pragya Thakur and Lt. Col SP Purohit as the prime accused, along with five other Hindu extremists.

In July, NIA had urged the special court dealing with the case to conduct the entire trial in-camera -- which means without the presence of media or any other person except the accused, their lawyers and the prosecution.

Opposing this move, 11 journalists from various news media houses, two of whom are from The Free Press Journal, filed intervention applications urging the court not to conduct the proceedings in-camera. The journalists filed the application through advocates Rizwan Merchant and Gayatri Gokhale.

Pursuant to the court’s earlier orders, NIA filed a reply stating, “The prosecution is in favour of freedom of speech and expression, freedom of press, right to information etc. But considering the sensitive nature of this case, it has filed this application (for in-camera proceedings).”

The central agency has said it would be incorrect if the court accepted the arguments of the journalists, who have termed NIA’s apprehension that a media coverage of the trial may lead to communal disharmony, as ‘vague.’

“The sensitivity of this case is known to everyone, especially to journalists, as the allegations against the accused in this case is that they have committed the offence to take revenge against the Muslim jihadi activities and to create a rift between the two communities,” NIA has highlighted.

“As per the prosecution, for causing the bomb blast, Malegaon was chosen because it is a Muslim-dominated area. In view of this background, for maintaining harmony in the society and security of witnesses, it is necessary to conduct in-camera trial,” the reply filed by NIA’s investigating officer AK Dubey reads.

In its four-page response, filed through special public prosecutor Avinash Rasal, the central agency further claimed that the journalists are not a party to the case and thus have no locus standi in the matter. The agency has accused these journalists of deliberately disturbing the court proceedings.