Urgent Demand for the Release of Syed Kazmi

 

This “committee” is an informal grouping of concerned journalists, civil rights activists and academics, united in the belief that a vast travesty of justice is taking place with the arrest and continuing incarceration of Syed Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, a senior and well respected journalist.

Kazmi was arrested on March 6 for alleged involvement in the February 13 bomb attack on a vehicle belonging to the Israeli diplomatic mission in Delhi. He was hustled into a police vehicle at 11:30 that morning as he emerged from the India Islamic Cultural  Centre on Lodi Road.

The arrest memo which was given to Kazmi’s family on March 17, following an order by Delhi’s Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM), records his arrest at 11:30 in the night, about twelve hours from the time he was taken in by the Special Branch of the Delhi Police.

This seemingly deliberate misrepresentation of the time of arrest raises the first set of questions about the conduct of the Delhi Police.

Kazmi was interrogated through the early phase of his detention by unidentified persons. Contrary to the clear guidelines laid down in the D.K. Basu case, several of the police personnel who interrogated him did not wear name tags or uniforms. This earned the Special Branch of the Delhi Police a stern reprimand by CMM Vinod Yadav on March 17.

We question this quite blatant violation of procedure by the Delhi Police in a matter with serious international ramifications.

Charges have not been formally laid, but Kazmi, as the FIR records, is being held under sections of the Explosives Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, while investigations continue into the February 13 bomb attack on an Israeli embassy vehicle in Delhi.

Under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, an accused can be held without charge for upto 180 days.

Kazmi was remanded to twenty days in police custody on March 7 but transferred to judicial custody four days before this remand period expired. This was done without prior notice to the family or Kazmi’s defence lawyers and  ostensibly because the Special Branch of the Delhi Police had no further need to keep him.

His bail application came up before the CMM on March 30 but the hearing was adjourned till April 3 because prosecution lawyers were not present.

In turning down his bail application, CMM Vinod Yadav held that global inquiries into the bombing might be compromised by his release. The CMM also acceded in large part to a prosecution request not to discuss evidence in open court.

If the Delhi Police are so anxious that their evidence should not be known to the wider public, we question how they have been putting out selective leaks with the seeming intent to influence the public mood.

On the basis of telephone and bank records placed before him, CMM Vinod Yadav arrived at a prima facie determination that Syed Kazmi was in contact with the actual “assailants” and may have obtained funds from foreign sources to carry out his part in the conspiracy.

We believe that this interpretation of available facts strains credulity.

Kazmi’s phone calls prior to and after the February 13 attack, were all made from connections he has had for years. These were likely connected to his professional work as a correspondent for the official Iranian news agency based in Tehran.

The detained journalist’s family has also responded to inquiries by the Enforcement Directorate – the agency with the official mandate to investigate illicit money flows – about funds received in his and his wife Jahanara Kazmi’s account.

Delhi’s top police official, Commissioner B K Gupta said soon after Kazmi’s arrest that he and his wife had been receiving foreign remittances “regularly”. The total volume of suspicious transfers was estimated then at just under Rs 19 lakh.[i]

Kazmi’s family has documentation which establishes that these transactions date back at least four years and originate in the Gulf Emirate of Dubai. They follow a regular monthly pattern and were all sent by Jahanara Kazmi’s son from a previous marriage to Kazmi’s long deceased elder brother.

We believe that Delhi Police knows what the source of the funds is, but has created a deliberate bureaucratic complexity by assigning the investigation to the Enforcement Directorate.

It has also fostered a sense of public hostility towards Kazmi’s case by suggesting that these remittances were received in the months of February and March, when they were actually spread over several years. This is deliberate and blatant misrepresentation of facts.

The Special Cell’s track record in framing innocents in terror cases does not inspire any confidence that it will provide Kazmi with sufficient opportunity to establish his innocence. When the Home Ministry did not entrust the investigation of the Delhi High Court blast to the Special Cell—why is a case with such international ramifications being handed over to them?

Meanwhile, media commentary has questioned the background of the police personnel investigating the February 13 incident and suggested a disturbing tendency towards lawless behaviour, including possible involvement in extra-judicial executions.[ii]

The correspondent in Delhi for Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, has written that the whole story about Kazmi’s involvement in the February 13 bomb attack has been “fishy” from the very start.[iii]

A.G. Noorani, a highly respected commentator and expert on Indian constitutional law, has observed that the conduct of the Special Branch of Delhi Police violates the basic principle of the presumption of innocence. “Leaks or even attributable briefings while the investigation proceeds are highly improper and, indeed, illegal”, he has said: “They constitute a clear case of contempt of court and the officials should be hauled up by the courts promptly and awarded deterrent sentences”.[iv]

Several vital principles are at stake aside from the right to liberty of an individual and his freedom to speak.

With his linguistic skills and understanding of the geopolitics of the Gulf, Kazmi’s work as a journalist was important in bringing diversity and difference to the public dialogue on a strategically vital region.

THE SYED KAZMI SOLIDARITY COMMITTEE

Ajit Sahi, Ali Javed, Anuradha Chenoy, Apoorvanand, Colin Gonsalves, Iftikhar Gilani, Javed Naqvi, John Cherian, Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Kuldip Nayar, Mahesh Bhat, Manisha Sethi, Mansi Sharma, Nitya Ramakrishnan, Praful Bidwai, Saba Naqvi, Saeed Naqvi, Sandeep Dixit, Sanjay Kapoor, Seema Mustafa, Shabnam Hashmi, Sukumar Muralidharan, T.K. Rajalakshmi, Zafar Agha

[i] See Indian Express, “Israeli attack: ED to probe source of journalist Kazmi’s funds”, March 20, available at: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/israeli-attack-ed-to-probe-source-of-journalist-kazmis-funds/926057/.

[ii] See Mail Today, “Ensure probe into terror attack is above board”, March 20, available at:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2117433/Ensure-probe-board.html#ixzz1rYoD6IsV. Sanjeev Yadav, the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police investigating the February 13 attacks, has been censured by the National Human Rights Commission for a fake encounter involving the killing of five supposed gangsters in Kajuri Khas in Delhi in 2006. He has also been transferred from an earlier posting in the Mehrauli area in 2011 after his involvement in the illicit oil trade was detected.

[iii] Aimee Ginsburg, “Have to Watch My Words”, Open, March 24, http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/voices/have-to-watch-my-words. Among the points made by the Israeli journalist is the immense damage caused to journalistic integrity by the sustained campaign of police disinformation in the matter: “I certainly do not like having to write news stories filled with facts fed to us by people who expect us just to write what they have fed us whether we believe a word of it or not. I was not the only journalist feeling manipulated during this whole story, and I said so to my editors..”

[iv] “Police and the Media”, Dawn, April 7, available at: http://dawn.com/2012/04/07/police-and-the-media/.

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