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Above: Editor Ghulam Jeelani Qadri (in striped kurta) outside the Srinagar court after his bail/Photo: kashmirlife.net     

In a shocking incident, a popular editor in J&K is arrested as he did not respond to a warrant issued on June 22, 1993. It was left to the judiciary to order his bail 

By Pushp Saraf

The arrest of 62-year-old Ghulam Jeelani Qadri, editor of Urdu daily Aafaq (meaning horizon), against a 26-year-old warrant reflects the perils and dual risk for a journalist caught in a vicious game of the gun. On the one hand, he is likely to incur the wrath of militants (about 20 media persons have been killed by gunmen in the Valley during the last four decades) and on the other, he faces the rough end of the stick of an insensitive administration (there are often instances of sudden detentions and arguments over curfew passes).

The case of Jeelani reveals an administration where the left hand does not know what the right is doing. He was picked up on June 24 after the dreaded midnight knock at his Balgarden residence in Srinagar and whisked away to Shaheed Gunj police station. There, he was told that he was a proclaimed offender for not having responded to an arrest warrant issued on June 22, 1993. His various pleas went unheeded—that he had never been informed about it, that twice in the intervening period his passport had been verified by the same police station, that he had been a member of official media advisory committees and that he was a founder-member of the Kashmir Editors Guild (KEG).

Going by the police version, the onus was on Jeelani to prove his innocence.  The New York-headquartered Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) quoted Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police Swayam Prakash Pani as saying that Jeelani should have approached the courts earlier to petition to have the case dropped. He denied that Jeelani was being targeted because he was a journalist and called the arrest a routine procedure for pending cases.

It was left to the judiciary to effectively intervene. Srinagar’s Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) Gowhar Majid Dalal took cognisance of the arguments advanced by Jeelani in his application and his counsel in the open court. The CJM also noticed that the same warrant was against seven other journalists as well. He ordered the release of Jeelani on bail on two conditions: (a) the journalist would make himself available as and when directed; and (b) furnishing of bail and personal bonds to the tune of Rs 20,000. The CJM, simultaneously, fixed July 31 for the government to inform “about the status of the case in the court” and for the police to explain, along with records and personal appearance of the concerned station house officer, the action taken on the warrant issued against Jeelani and others.

The KEG was quick to hail the judicial intervention, describing it as a manifestation of the “judiciary’s concern” that “the liberty of the media is not barred or trampled upon”. It expressed its gratitude to the judiciary and regrets that the senior editor was declared a proclaimed offender. The Guild asserted that Jeelani, like every member of the media in Kashmir, was a law-abiding citizen and could have personally appeared before the police station or the court had he been informed. It noted that he had been a newspaper editor for over two decades, had contributed to the institution of media and had been in public life for three decades. “How can a person be a proclaimed offender if he is available in his office in the heart of Srinagar for more than 15 hours daily,” the KEG wondered.

Despite having burnt its fingers in the face of the preliminary judicial security, the governor’s administration has given no hint that it has become wiser and would close the case. The case had evidently not been touched, leave alone investigated, for nearly three decades. The sword of Damocles thus hangs over Jeelani’s head.

It is not without irony that of the seven other journalists mentioned in the 1993 warrant, two—Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, former editor of Srinagar Times, and Ghulam Rasool Arif, editor of the Hamdard—passed away long ago. Sofi, interestingly, had been also been a nominated member of the Legislative Council before he died in 2009. How could he have remained invisible to the police? Why should his and Arif’s names be there in the warrant after their death? Jeelani himself is a popular media face.

“Fortunately,” said Nizamuddin Bhat, a journalist-turned-People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader, “a media person is involved in this case. As a result, his and our voice is being heard. Had an ordinary person been implicated, his fate would have never been known.”

He blames this on “the perception emanating from New Delhi and the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar that anyone belonging to any institution in the Valley is either corrupt or anti-national. Because of such blurred vision, innocents suffer. It is absolutely obnoxious that instead of closing the case, the police acted against Jeelani.”

The case is based on a first information report filed in 1990 under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA).  Eight journalists, who also included Ghulam Nabi Shaida, editor, Wadi Ki Awaaz; Sadudin, editor, Azad Srinagar; Aashiq Kashmiri, chief editor; Shafiq Aijaz Khan and Pir Abdul Shakoor (all of Azaan, mouthpiece of the recently banned Jammat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir) were exposed to the charge of giving publicity to press releases of banned terrorist organisations. The CJM had issued the warrant in 1993.  The state was under President’s Rule at that time and elected governments that followed after 1996 (when assembly polls were held after nine years) obviously did not evince any interest in the case. It is possible they were not even aware of it and it has been dusted off only now clearly without taking into confidence even the state’s information department which remains in touch with journalists.

Why Jeelani has been singled out among the six survivors is also intriguing. “Hardly had I settled down on reaching home around midnight, I had to rush to reopen the entrance on hearing a knock,” he told India Legal over the telephone from Srinagar.

Another shock awaited him when he was told that he was a lawbreaker having evaded the arrest warrant all these decades. TADA having lapsed in 1995, the case is now to be heard under the corresponding provisions of the Jammu and Kashmir Criminal Amendment Act 1983.

In the 1990s, militancy was at its peak in the Valley. Owner-editors, as the late Sofi told this writer in an interview around that time, had no control over their publications even though their names figured in the print line. Militants carrying guns dictated the terms. It was a taboo to call them militants and to give publicity to mainstream politicians. Newspapers were filled with advertisements by people renouncing their affiliation with pro-India political parties. Jeelani’s deceased father and veteran journalist Mohammad Yusuf Qadri, who founded Aafaq and a news agency, had seen much of this tension. Media persons stood up to discharge their responsibilities during those challenging years.

Surely, they would pass this test too.

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