Sohrabuddin case: HC sets aside gag order on media

Cheryl Sanders
January 25, 2018

The Congress on Wednesday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "pressuririsng" the CBI to not carry out proper investigation into the alleged staged shootout case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, in which BJP President Amit Shah was discharged by a lower court in December 2014.

Justice Revati Mohite-Dere said the ban on publishing any part of the proceeding was contrary to law and that "certainly public had a right to know what is happening in this case".

In December 2017, a group of journalist moved the Bombay High Court against an order by the CBI court, which restrained the media from reporting the trial.

"The rights of the press are intrinsic with the constitutional right of freedom of expression".

The high court also held that the media serves a larger public objective by disseminating information that will otherwise not be easily available to the people and added that the "Press is the most powerful watchdog of the society... a fair trial is one which balances the public interest of society". Mere apprehension of the accused that the media may sensationalise the matter is not a ground to ban the coverage of the trial, the HC also noted.

On November 29 a year ago, a special CBI court restrained the media from publishing news about the trial in the case, citing security problems for the accused, witnesses, and the defence and prosecutor.

The CBI court said while journalists can attend the proceedings, they must not make what transpired public. "In reporting from an open trial, the press not only makes use of its own right, but serves the larger goal of making such information available to the general public", Justice Mohite-Dere said on Wednesday.

Lawyers Abad Ponda, Mihir Desai and Abhinav Chandrachud, who appeared for journalists, had argued that the ban on reporting was illegal, and the trial had a "large element of public interest".

The newspaper report said of the 40 witnesses examined since the media ban, 27 have gone back on their word. I am of the opinion that justice must not only be done but also be seen as it is done and this is the goal of an open trial.

Referring to Section 327 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides that any criminal court that is deemed to be an open court to which public may generally have access except in some cases, Justice Mohite-Dere said, "The statutory principles of administration of justice provides that justice must not only be done but it must also be seen as done". Further the court also said that the matter of judge Loya's death is not connected with this matter. The high court declined, saying these petitions were completely different. The policemen say they are unable to identify their former colleagues - now accused - present in the court room. Judge Loya was handling the Sohrabuddin encounter case. Twenty-two people are now facing trial in the case. Shaikh's associate Tulsi Prajapati, eye witness to the encounter, was also killed in another alleged fake police encounter later.

Investigators said the killings were meant to silence the men, who were instrumental in an extortion racked the police of three states - Gujarat, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh - were running at the behest of their political bosses.

"The petitioner has learnt that the CBI has challenged their discharge before the high court".

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