A special court in Mumbai hearing the Malegaon 2008 blast case Tuesday rejected the National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) plea to make the proceedings in the case ‘in-camera’ and restrain media from reporting the trial.
A group of 11 journalists, including from The Indian Express, had filed an intervention application opposing the NIA’s plea to restrain the media from reporting the proceedings.
Special NIA Judge V S Padalkar said conducting the trial in a “transparent manner” was among the reasons for rejecting the NIA’s plea.
Citing “sensitive nature of the case,” and provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the NIA Act, the agency had claimed that the special court has powers to pass an order to conduct the proceedings in-camera. Among the provisions cited by the NIA are section 17 of the NIA Act and section 44 of the UAPA, which, to protect witnesses, gives the court the discretion to avoid mentioning their names, issue directions to secure their identity and order all or any proceeding to not be published.
Had NIA’s plea been accepted, no person besides all the parties to the case, including the prosecution, accused and their lawyers, as well as the lawyer for an intervener (the father of a victim killed in the blast), would be allowed to attend the proceedings.
In its reply to the journalists’ application, the agency said the petition cannot be submitted as media has no locus in the case. It further said while it is “in favour of freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press and right to information”, considering the “sensitive” nature of the case, the NIA has filed the plea for in-camera hearing.
Backing the NIA’s plea, Malegoan blast accused and BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur in her application has claimed that she has been subjected to “media trial” and has been “over-exposed” to media debates, “influencing” the opinion of the public at large including witnesses. She has further claimed there is an apprehension of threat to communal harmony and “jeopardising the fairness of the trial”.
So far, over 120 witnesses have deposed in the trial, that began in December last year, with no bar on reporting. Apart from Thakur, Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit and five others are accused in the case.