The Bombay High Court on Friday issued notices to the CBI and the accused in the Sohrabuddin Shaikh encounter case on two petitions filed by journalists against the trial court’s ban on reporting the proceedings. Justice Revati Mohite-Dere will hear the petitions on January 23.
When the petitions came up for hearing today, CBI lawyer Sandesh Patil said the investigative agency has “no stand” on the issue. “We are neutral. We leave it to the court to decide,” he said. One of the petitions has been filed by the Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists, and the other by nine court reporters of various national dailies and news channels.
On November 30, 2017, a few days before day-to-day trial in the fake encounter case was to begin, the special CBI court in Mumbai restrained media from reporting the proceedings. The order was passed on an application by one of the defence lawyers, seeking a ban on media coverage.
Raising security issues, the defence lawyer referred to a media report on the death of judge B H Loya who had dealt with the case earlier, and said “misreporting has already caused prejudice to both sides”. It was a “sensational” case and some untoward incident could happen if publication of reports was allowed, the plea said.
The judge agreed with the view, noting that “publication (of reports) may create a security problem for the accused, prosecution witnesses, defence team and the prosecution as well”. When asked about the CBI’s stand, the agency’s counsel had only said that the court may “pass appropriate orders.” Calling the ban “illegal”, some journalists moved the high court, insisting that the trial court cannot pass such an order when the proceedings were not being held ‘in-camera’.
The trial has a “large element of public interest,” and people have the right to know what transpired during it, one of the petitions said. Gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, who the Gujarat police claimed was also a terrorist, was killed in an alleged fake encounter by the Gujarat and Rajasthan police in 2005. His wife Kausar Bi disappeared and was alleged to have been eliminated by police. Shaikh’s associate Tulsi Prajapati was also later killed in an alleged fake encounter.
The CBI took over the probe in February 2010 and filed charge sheet in July the same year against 23 accused including BJP president Amit Shah, who at that time was the minister of state for home in Gujarat. The trial court discharged several accused in the case later, including Shah and three IPS officers.
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