March 3, 2021 1:10:45 am
Taking cognizance of a supplementary chargesheet filed against 18 people accused in the alleged larger conspiracy case of the Northeast Delhi riots, a Delhi judge said reporting, particularly on social media, remains “charged up all the time” after many of the accused alleged there was a media trial painting them as guilty.
Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat while taking cognizance of the chargesheet wrote in his order: “It is indubitably true that every accused has fundamental right to free and and fair investigation as also trial. Media reporting particularly on social media remains charged up all the time. Media is free to cover stories but they must also be conscious of remaining careful and objective in their approach. It is the fundamental right of every person accused of any offence to be provided with the opportunity to defend himself.”
The court 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… yet, 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. Labelling police as completely unfair or the accused as a convict itself is not a healthy sign and impacts the process of criminal justice system. The principal and the tenets of free and fair trial are sacrosanct and inviolable.”
Furthermore, the court said there is a “disturbing trend about the reporting of the exact contents of the chargesheet before cognizance is even taken or counsel for the accused are provided copies of it. 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. This is grossly unfair and the court expects that it would not occur in the future.”
The hearing began with Ajit S Pujari appearing on behalf of Natasha Narwal and Devangana Kalita, seeking copy of supplementary chargesheet filed in the matter. Pujari submitted that “the investigation is not fair and not all video clips have been investigated”. He played a video showing police personnel breaking CCTV cameras to make his point.
Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad said that Pujari’s demand seeking a copy of chargesheet has “no legal basis” and added that “the correct position in law is that the copy of the chargesheet cannot be supplied before taking cognizance”.
Former JNU student Umar Khalid told the court, “For an accused it is very difficult when media paints accused as guilty before trial; it is happening again and again.” He told the court that “there were newspapers where the pictures of Asif Iqbal, Natasha, me, Devangana, etc were published with the headline ‘Dilli dango ke bade gunegaar, ye hain unke chehere’. It’s an inquisition without being heard.”
United Against Hate founder Khalid Saifi told the court: “I am unable to understand what are the charges against me. They say I was part of the protest. They are making serious allegations against me like I am a terrorist. They are showing it like… my name is Khalid, I am a terrorist.”
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