By Ananya Bhatnagar
A Delhi court on Tuesday took cognizance of various offences including sedition, criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity between groups against former JNU student leader Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Devangana Kalita and others in the case relating to the larger conspiracy which led to the North-east Delhi riots.
“I take cognizance of the offences under Section 124A/153A/109/ 120B of IPC against all the 18 accused persons,” said Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat after noting that the requisite sanction under Section 196 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) has been recieved.
The judge while passing the said orders also said, “It is indubitably true that every accused has the fundamental right to free and fair investigation as also trial.”
“Media reporting particularly on the social media remains charged up all the time. Media is free to cover the stories but they must also be conscious of remaining careful and objective in their approach,”
-the judge noted.
He added that it’s the fundamental right of every person accused of offence, to be provided the opportunity to defend himself.
The said observations came in after various accused in the case, including Khalid, Imam and Khalid Saifi, complained that a media campaign is being run against them.
JNU student leader Umar Khalid, appearing in person through video conferencing from jail, told the court, “On the anniversary of Delhi riots, there are press reports with our photographs and titled “Delhi Dango Ke Bade Gunehgaar”.
“Which court of the country has convicted us?” Umar asked, adding that this was not even a media trial but imputation.
Further, accused Asif Iqbal Tanha, appearing through VC from jail, said, “We are bearing the consequences of the media reporting inside the jail.”
“We are discriminated and even proper medical treatment is not given to me. We are called like Yeh Danga Karke Aaye Hai…,”
Khalid Saiifi appearing in person said that he is unable to understand the charges against him.
“They say I was a part of the protest. They are making serious allegations against me for being a terrorist because my name is khan, they (media) are saying I’m a terrorist,” Saifi submitted before ASJ Rawat.
Advocate Adit S. Pujari, appearing for Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal, submitted that the media has run the extracts of the charge-sheet even before the cognizance was taken.
“Yeh chargesheet duniya mein sabke paas hai but mera legal right hone ke baad bhi mere paas ni hai. All I am asking is the copy, it’s my legal right,” said Pujari, who also filed an application for a copy of the chargesheet.
Pujari speaking on the issue of chargesheet leakage informed the court that there is a set pattern. “The supplementary chargesheet is with the police officer and then it comes to court and in between gets leaked to media. When the leak happens from the police, this is very important,” Pujari submitted.
Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad opposed the submissions saying that it’s not fair to say that the leaks happened only from the police. “Leakage is affecting us also, it’s hampering our probe,” he said.
Taking note of the said observations, ASJ Rawat in his order said,
“There is a world of difference between an accused and a convict. Though it is not possible to lay down guidelines regarding media coverage, in my opinion, there should, at least, always be a disclaimer when reporting, whether it is the version of the police/prosecution or the accused instead of presenting as if it is the order of the Court.”
“Labeling the police as completely unfair or the accused as a convict itself, is not a healthy sign and which impacts the process of criminal justice system,” the judge said.
He said the principle and the tenets of free and fair trial, are sacrosanct and inviolable.
“There is also a disturbing trend about the reporting of the exact contents of the charge-sheet before cognizance is even taken or counsels for the accused are provided copies of it,” the court noted.
“It is one thing to report generally about the charge-sheet but quite another to reproduce it as it is and thus, obviously, the question of leakage would arise. This is grossly unfair and unjustified and the court expects that it would not occur in future,” the court concluded.