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14 April, 2009

CJP criticises irresponsible reportage of court proceedings

Citizens for Justice and Peace says in a statement issued in Mumbai:

The report in sections of the national media dated April 14, 2009, alleging that NGOs, Teesta Setalvad etc misled the apex court and exaggerated the violence in Gujarat in 2002 are clear example of irresponsible reportage. Intentionally or otherwise, the distorted report damages the reputation of a citizens’ group that has been recognized nationally and internationally for working assiduously to ensure justice to the victims of mass violence whether in case of the Gujarat carnage (2002), or the bomb blasts in Mumbai (2006 and 2008) or the communal carnage in Kandhamal district, Orissa (2008), irrespective of the caste or creed of the victims or the perpetrators.

The fact is that neither Sri R. K. Raghavan, nor any other member of the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was present at the apex court to “tell” it anything. These reports could only be referring to a contention made in a four page note circulated by Ms Hemantika Wahi for the Gujarat Government.. It was NOT a note prepared by SIT.

The detailed report of SIT submitted to the Supreme Court on March 6, 2007 has not been available for study either to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the petitioners in this case, or the Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) who have intervened in this critical matter or to any in the media. Any reference to it is hence hearsay and it may amount to contempt of court to write about a report which the Court has specifically not made public.

In its written note that the Gujarat state circulated in court yesterday, the state has given its brief comments on the SIT report. In para four of this note the Gujarat government note refers to alleged statements made by some witnesses in the Gulberg case before SIT that name accused other than those named by them in the written statements that were (according to the state of Gujarat) given to them by Teesta Setalvad and advocates. This is the version of the Gujarat state. Besides this, Mukhul Rohatgi tried to make a populist speech in court saying that incidents like the Kauser Bano case etc never happened. The Supreme Court disregarded this argument and did not allow Mr.Rohatgi to read anything from the report. The court went on to state that they were not interested in personal allegations and only ensuring that, like in the course of the Zahira Shaikh case, the trials are fair, the truth comes out and the course of justice is served.

It is necessary to recalled that in the course of the Best Bakery trial, too, the Gujarat government had tried to divert the court’s attention by engineering charges against Teesta Setalvad, secretary CJP and by implication the NGO. On Setalvad’s application to the apex court for a full fledged inquiry the report of the Registrar of the apex court exonerated Setalvad and the NGO completely.

As reported by the rest of the national media, on Monday, ignoring Sri Rohatgi’s bid to side-step the main issues, the three-member bench of the Supreme Court remained focused on the modalities of setting up designated courts for the trial of the accused in the post-Godhra riot cases in Gujarat. Instead of highlighting the court proceedings, Sri Mahapatra chose to spice up his report focusing not on the deliberations or the intentions of the apex court but to promote the case of the Gujarat government.

The moot question is whether or not 2,500 persons were killed in a ghastly perpetrated massacre following the tragic burning alive of 59 persons on the Sabarmati express; whether or not ex parliamentarian Ahsan Jafri was mutilated before being burnt alive, whether the bodies of the missing dead (over 220) have not been found or returned for dignified burial after seven long years? All the national media was witness to this national tragedy.

In the interests of fair reportage and to ensure that the reputation of a citizens group committed to equity and justice is not deliberately vitiated before the trials commence, the media should carry this rebuttal in full. A failure to do so will result in the columns of a national newspaper being used to distort facts, shape public perception and seek to influence the outcome of due process of law and justice to the victims of mass murder.

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