Tenets of free and fair trial are sacrosanct: Delhi court on media leak of chargesheet in violence case

During the hearing, the court took cognisance of supplementary chargesheet against 18 accused, including Umar Khalid and others

Delhi violence

A Delhi court has taken cognisance of additional offences of sedition, promoting enmity, abetment and conspiracy against persons accused in the North East Delhi violence case. Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat, Karkardooma court, took cognisance of the supplementary chargesheet filed against 18 accused which include:

1.       Shafa-Ur-Rehman,

2.       Tahir Hussain,

3.       Khalid Saifi,

4.       Shadab Ahmed,

5.       Tasleem Ahmed,

6.       Salim Malik,

7.       Mohd Salim Khan,

8.       Athar Khan,

9.       Sharjeel Imam,

10.   Umar Khalid

11.   Faizan Khan,

12.   Devangana Kalita,

13.   Natasha Narwal,

14.   Safoora Zargar,

15.   Gulfisha Fatima,

16.   Asif Iqbal Tanha,

17.   Meeran Haider

18.   Ishrat Jahan

Delhi Police special cell has registered FIR no. 59/2020 against these accused, alleging that they planned anti-CAA protests as a conspiracy to create communal riots. The trial in this FIR has been stayed by Delhi High Court as Delhi police had challenged trial court order directing that physical copies of chargesheet be provided to the accused persons.

Media leak

LiveLaw reported that during the hearing, Umar Khalid appeared before the judge complaining about the ‘media trial’ against him and other accused. “It is happening again and again. When the media reports project you as an accused well before the trial… this is against the rights of accused and violates constitutional mandates,” he said.

Tasleem Ahmed said that he was slapped in jail and was denied medical check-up. Kahlid Saifi also spoke against leaking information to the media, “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 as being a terrorist, because of my name. before coming to court with anything, they go to media. Then things are published and thereafter they come to court. this entire process has to stop”.

He cited news reports using pictures of himself along with Asif Iqbal Tanha, Natasha Narwal and Devangana and few others with headline “Dilli dango ke bade gunhegaar, ye hai unke chehere (these are the faces of the main culprits of Delhi riots)”. Tanha said that after these headlines, they were being discriminated in jail, “I have not been given proper medical treatment”

The counsel appearing for Pinjra Tod members Devangana Kalita and Natasha Narwal submitted that TV channels and newspapers were quoting the chargesheet in their reports. He cited a Times Now report where sections of the supplementary chargesheet were quoted and he added that the police were leaking the same to the media. “The supplementary chargesheet is with the police officer and then it comes to court. but it gets leaked with media. When the leak happens from police, it is very important here,” said the counsel, Adit Pujari.

Judge Rawat reportedly asked, “I do feel this leakage from media shouldn’t have happened. Why the media is getting into this?” 

The court further stated, “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 court said that it is not possible to lay down guidelines regarding media coverage in its jurisdiction but stated that the media should at least put a disclaimer while reporting, which clearly states “whether it is the version of the police/prosecution or the accused instead of presenting it as the order of the court”. The court further held that “labelling police as completely unfair or accused as convict itself is not a healthy sign and which impacts process of criminal justice system. The principle and tenets of free and fair trial are sacrosanct and inviolable.”

Without delving into the source of the leak to the media, the court addressed the “disturbing trend” of reporting exact contents of chargesheet calling it unjustified. The court said that if the chargesheet is reproduced as it is, even before the court has taken cognizance the question of leakage obviously arises.

Special Public prosecutor Amit Prasad submitted that the Delhi High Court is already hearing Asif Iqbal Tanha’s plea on media leak and retorted that the accused were running narratives in media outlets like ‘News Laundry’. Pujari responded saying that articles citing police/accused’s version of the case are very different from media reports quoting chargesheets.

The Delhi High Court has already pulled up Delhi Police for filing a ‘half baked’ vigilance enquiry report probing leakage of information to the media in a plea filed by Tanha. Justice Mukta Gupta criticised the report as it failed to identify the source of the leak.



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