Gagging was a term prominent during the times when British ruled India. Then came Congress leader Indira Gandhi’s time who also gagged the press. Last year in November, this term came to the surface yet again with the CBI Court disallowing the press to report a case.
This is the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. On November 29, 2017; following an application by advocate Wahab Khan, a ban was put on media (print, electronic and social) to report this case, though they could attend the proceeding.
Courts generally allow such in-camera i.e. private proceedings only if there is a rape case or a case concerning national security. But in this case according to the order by Special Judge S.J. Sharma, “The publication may create security problem for the accused persons, prosecution witnesses, the defence team and the prosecutor as well.”
Principles generally followed by court have been compromised, in this case.
Following the gagging, nine journalists filed a petition against the order. Journalists from reputed media organisations like The Wire, Dailyo, Scroll, The Free Press Journal, etc. stood before the SC in solidarity.
But the damage has already been done.
In August last year when Inspector General of Gujarat DG Vanzara and IPS officer Dinesh MN were absolved from the charges. While from December, 19 of the eyewitnesses have either retracted their statements or denied stating anything, according to a report by The Indian Express.
The case has been witnessing a fall since the BJP came to power. First there were changes in the judges, then Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabbudin Sheikh withdraw the petition challenging discharge of Amit Shah, and then the recent developments from 2017.
The case is complicated because of many reasons. One, because it concerns encounter killing of an alleged terrorist and extortionist mafia Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausar Bi and Sheikh’s close aide Tulsiram Prajapati. Two, Sohrabuddin according to the Gujarat and Rajasthan Police wanted to kill the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi. Three, one of the accused in the case is the then, Minister of Home for Gujarat and now, ruling party chairman Amit Shah.
The lopsided and strange episodes in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case has raised a question about not just media freedom but also about the meaning of justice in our country.