January 2003 News

Govt withdraws case against Gilani

10 January 2003
The Indian Express

New Delhi: Three days after it reiterated that Kashmiri journalist Syed Iftikhar Gilani possessed information ‘‘prejudicial to the safety and security of the country,’’ the Government today filed an application in a court seeking withdrawal of the official secrets case against him. With this dramatic turnaround in the Government’s stand, Gilani is set to be released after being taken into custody seven months ago in Delhi when his father-in-law, Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was simultaneously arrested in Srinagar for his alleged financial links with Pakistan. The Delhi police booked a case against Gilani on June 9 under the Official Secrets Act alleging that an Income-Tax team that raided his house found in his computer a document about the placement of Indian troops in Jammu and Kashmir. The case provoked a controversy in the media and human rights circles following The Indian Express report that the document concerned was already available on the Internet and published in a Pakistani journal. But this vital lacuna in the case was acknowledged for the first time by the Military Intelligence only on December 12. It took another month for the Union Home Ministry to admit that the whole case against the journalist was baseless. The prosecution today moved an application before Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Sangeeta Dhingra Sehgal stating that the Lt Governor of Delhi had ‘‘in public interest’’ decided to withdraw the case considering the facts and evidence on record. Despite this long overdue decision of the Government, Gilani will have to languish at least three more days in jail because Sehgal said that she would pass an order on the withdrawal application only on Monday. The Government had originally sanctioned Gilani’s prosecution following the expert opinion given by the Military Intelligence on June 14 on the printout of the document found in his computer. The same month, the police, on the insistence of Gilani’s counsel, V K Ohri, also referred to the Military Intelligence a copy of the document published in a Pakistani journal, Islamabad Papers. But the Military Intelligence gave its opinion on the published copy after a six-month delay on December 12, that too because a sessions court gave it an ultimatum on November 16 while dealing with a bail plea by Gilani. Reversing its earlier opinion, the Military Intelligence said that as the information was ‘‘easily available’’ in a published document, it was of ‘‘negligible security value.’’ Significantly, the prosecution withheld from the court the change in the expert opinion on the alleged sensitivity of the seized document. The December 12 opinion came on record only because Ohri (Gilani’s counsel) procured a copy of it from his sources in the police. In the last hearing of the case on January 7, the Home Ministry said that the revised opinion of the Military Intelligence was ‘‘untenable’’ and therefore ‘‘the sanction for prosecution already accorded is in order.’’

 

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