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Victims of the Media’s Terror Investigation

Investigators are yet to identify the real perpetrators of the Delhi High Court blasts but the media have revealed almost everything including the entire game plan and identities. ABHISHEK UPADHYAY asks at what stage of an investigation should the media begin to mention names.

Now the National Investigation Agency has taken over investigation of the first Delhi High Court Blast case which took place on May 25, 2011 and a case was registered by the agency under sections of Explosives Substances Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act on December 20.  The NIA has been entrusted with the investigation of this case after Delhi Police failed to make any concrete progress.



It is important to note here that the Ministry of Home Affairs has already acknowledged in the Lok Sabha during the last session (on September 6, 2011) that no pointer/fact suggesting terrorist involvement was found in this very case. So, when NIA has taken over the additional responsibility of probing the first Delhi High Court Blast case of 2011,  it is pertinent to look back at the fate of the deadlier second high court blast  (September 7, 2011) case which claimed 15 lives and which was handed over to NIA the very next day.  The media has already done a good share of its typical terror investigation in this case and continues to do so with an amazing level of impunity in close coordination with the NIA.

Investigators are yet to identify the real perpetrators of this terror design, though 100 days of blast have passed, but the media has revealed almost everything including the entire game plan and identities. Media calculations, based on terror briefs by investigators, have taken its toll too. Shariq Bhatt, a minor student of Kistwar (Jammu Kashmir), became the first victim of this invisible, enigmatic investigation and somewhat ultra-religious nature of media reporting.

Shariq, a minor of 15 years and a class XI student of Islamia Faridia Higher Secondary School in Kishtwar, was painted as a hardcore terrorist by the media before they realised the hollowness of unofficial terror briefings. His story is a grim example of the terror unleashed by the media’s self appointed terror investigators, particularly in this case, but it is not the sole instance of the future which awaits any terror suspects per se. As per the latest update of the case, three youths, all from Kishtwar, are in custody and efforts being made to establish their link with Bangladesh and Pakistan-based hardcore terrorist organisation HUJI or Harkat-ul-Jehadi-Islami and a conglomerate of various terror organisations.

In a nutshell, the arithmetic as of now is like this. Three arrests–all youths–one minor (medical reports establish the alleged accused Abid Hussain as a  minor and he was sent to the juvenile justice board), no information about who made the bomb, no information  about who planted it,  and a huge gap in information on who facilitated it,  but the show goes on.

On December 13, Minister of State for Home Affairs, Jitendra Singh, in reply to an unstarred question of the Congress MP Manish Tewari in Parliament, had to acknowledge in writing that Delhi High Court Blast case of September 7, 2011, had not been solved and continues to be investigated by NIA which had reported arrest of three persons (all residents of Kistwar, Jammu and Kashmir). But, surprisingly, the media had already solved it with regular specifics provided by NIA. On November 1, the Indian Express reported with the headline—“Delhi blast: NIA finishes blast jigsaw, except for the bombers.” It had point-wise exact details about the whole scheme of the blast and the faces behind it.

This had very interesting claims about Wasim Akram Malik, the third arrested accused who was pursuing his MBBS from Jalalabad Ragib-Rubeya Medical College and Hospital in Sylhet, Bangladesh. The same Express story claimed  –“According to sources, Malik has told interrogators that he regrets having committed two mistakes: organising to send out the email claiming responsibility from his hometown Kishtwar, and meeting Aamir Abbas, another accused (who was contacted in connection with the email) in person.” 

The Indian Express in its story of November 1, gave the entire blueprint of this terror operation, all according to sources, and at the same time raised doubts over the story though it did not explain as to why it carried a story entirely based on sources which it did not believe in in the first place. When you file a story as per sources, it means you believe in your sources, then why raise a doubt and, if it is doubtful, why publish it?

Here again the same style of terror investigation, reporting news based on a mere confession (which was later denied), discreetly provided by the agency with no actual or circumstantial evidences in place. This is also a fact that Wasim Akram Malik has denied his confession in court. He claimed before the judge that he had been  tortured  in custody and had “no knowledge” about Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru until the National Investigation Agency told him during questioning. Waseem even corrected in court that he was an MBBS student and not a student of Unani medicine as claimed in media reports. 

This is the crux of the so-called media terror investigation which necessitates visiting the beginning of this episode. Again the tale of this investigation unfolds from Kistwar. Revelations started tumbling out about this blast, as the NIA, the official investigator in this case, happened to crack some leads and swooped down on the sleepy, nondescript Kashmiri town of Kishtwar. They arrested three persons with the help of JK police, two of whom, were minors, studying in their secondary classes with no criminal backgrounds. The NIA was following the traces of terror email, sent after the blast, from a cyber cafe in Kishtwar with the address

As Investigators zeroed in, the media reported their every move simultaneously. Seven days after the blast, two boys from Kishtwar were arrested on September 4 and slapped with rigorous charges of criminal conspiracy. They were accused of sending the terror email, and owning responsibility for the Delhi High Court blast. The media immediately jumped into action. Headlines appeared in print as well as in electronic media with due credit to official sources. As per reports that appeared in the media, two Kistwar residents, Abid Hussain and Shariq Bhatt had been booked under Section 120(B) IPC (criminal conspiracy) as first arrests in the email episode. It was a big scoop and was carried with all possible details about their identity as a sort of proven crime without even a modicum of sensitivity.

Very soon, both of these minor accused were known figures across the country, thanks to the peculiar style of “terror” journalism, thoroughly based on NIA or JK police’s brief. Nobody bothered to delve deep in order to dig out the truth behind the scene. It seemed that the information cake had already been prepared and discreetly served to the media with some sprinkles of gossip as topping. A huge damage had been done, where the fourth pillar of the democracy was in the role of an active partner in this jamboree of much-hyped terror investigation.

On  September 17, 2011, the media explained that three accused had been arrested by the  NIA, named Amir Abbas Dev, Abid Hussain and Shariq Bhatt of whom  Abid and Shariq sent terror mail, claiming responsibility for the terror blast on behalf of Harkat ul Jihad ul Islami or HUJI. NIA first caught these two (Abid and Shariq) and their interrogation led to the arrest of the third one, Amir Abbas Dev. As soon as Amir Abbas was arrested, another theory flashed in media quoting same reliable NIA sources that it was  Abbas who had handed over the draft of the e-mail to Abid Hussain and he was the real mastermind.

But the most intriguing as well as dramatic turn of this investigation was yet to come up. This came in the form of a U turn, taken by NIA when it released Shariq Bhatt, one of the three accused, arrested on the pretext of conspiring to spread terror. He was detained on September 10 and later remanded to investigative agency custody, which legally meant that he was arrested by NIA. When Shariq was released, the media surprisingly reported praises from NIA officials, quoting an anonymous investigator: “We wish him good luck for the forthcoming exams.” One newspaper gave a headline —“Kishtwar boy released, SSP tells father ‘your child is brilliant.”’ Shariq was a class 11 student and his exams were approaching at the time of his arrest. Nobody at this stage tried to pause for a moment and think what they had done with an innocent student in the name of terror investigation and in the hurry of claiming informative scoops. They didn’t even bother to undo the mistake.

As per court guidelines, the media cannot disclose the identity of a minor accused however grave or light the nature of the crime allegedly committed by him. But in case of Shariq, all norms were demolished only in the pursuit of blindly following NIA leads. No newspaper or channel issued an apology.

Even Abid Hussain who is in the custody of juvenile justice board, has been prominently mentioned in news reports with relevant particulars about him. As if Shariq’s case had no bearing on media consciousness, it started copying again the unconfirmed upcoming revelations being put forth by the investigator, without any substantial proofs in their support. Now a new theory cropped up in some respectable national dailies linking the network of these jehadis form Kashmir to Kerala.

Now, a Malayalam-speaking jihadist, Abdul Jabbar, was the focal point of headlines. Referring to the arrest of Amir Abbas Dev and Abid Hussain, media announced: “Interrogation by NIA has thrown up evidences that recent Delhi High Court, as well as a string of other recent strikes, could have been facilitated by a jihadist unit in Jammu and Kashmir.” NIA sources then contributed to another theory which encircled another fundamentalist organisation called Tablighi Jammat, supposed to have massive regional presence, allegedly dedicating its resources in spreading an ultra-conservative version of Islam. Some anonymous agency sources claimed that the cell behind attack on the Delhi High Court was recruited by this very Jammat which has been a launch-pad for several jihadist groups and several of its adherents have been implicated in terrorist operations.

There was one more speculation that the rank and file of this Jamat have allegedly played a major role in setting up the Indian Mujahideen, the jihadist group held responsible for several terror attack across India. It was proved again how investigation agency supplies rations to the media and how the latter lap them up.

As per the Parliamentary  reply on August 16, 2011, by Minister of State for Home Jitendra Singh on an unstarred question by MP Prahlad Venkatesh Joshi, NIA had registered and investigated seven cases from Kerala in which SIMI, LET were involved and in six cases charge sheet has been filed. NIA appeared to be easily connecting one case with another, thereby building a chain, and the media readily believed this theory. Thus seven cases related with a different terrorist organisation, seemed to be good enough for the NIA to point the needle towards Kerala after linking it with international terror organisations, though NIA has not pointed anything officially.

The media was yet to do full autopsy of this very Tableegi Jamat in connection with Delhi High Court blast, when Wasim Akram Malik was arrested by the NIA. As the agency held him the main conspirator/mastermind of the blast, the media again took a 360-degree turn and an intense investigative journalism was launched to hunt for the details around Wasim’s past, present, and future, again with the lead from some anonymous NIA investigators.

Thus, as per the new theory propagated by these “reliable sources”, Wasim  Akram and his absconding brother Junaid Akram were the new terror characters intelligently fitted into investigative leads published and shown in the media. There were contradicting reports regarding the arrest of Wasim Akram Malik who was a medical student in Bangladesh. Two theories emerged leading to his arrest. As per the first, he was held in Bangladesh and later handed over to Indian authorities, while his family claimed that he came to India at their own call. They fully cooperated with the NIA and asked Wasim to come back to answer NIA’s questions.

Adding a twist to Wasim’s arrest, his father Reyaz-ul-Hasan Malik, an employee of National Hydro Power Corporation, claimed that he thad ransferred the required money into the bank account of Wasim to enable him to book his flight for Delhi. He termed it an act of vengeance by Hizb conduit Azhar Ali, whose family was his tenant in Kishtwar.  He told the media that his elder son Wasim, who has been studying in Bangladesh since 2006, had come home after 17 months on August 31, 2011. After spending some days with the family, he had left for Dhaka but spent three days in Jammu with his friends and relatives.

He gave some exact details: On September 6, Wasim withdrew money from ATM, on September 7, he was challaned by Jammu Traffic Police for driving without helmet and on September 8, he again withdrew money for making some purchase as he had to leave for Dhaka on September 9, and challenged NIA to verify these facts. Unfortunately no one in the media bothered to verify these claims or question NIA on this count.

Media published these bits of information under the heading: “Delhi blast: NIA team in Bangladesh quiz students”, where the first five paragraph of the story were devoted to investigative moves of NIA and arguments given by Wasim’s father in his defence were carried in the latter part of the story. As of now, Wasim Akram Malik is seeking permission from Delhi trial court to visit Bangladesh to take his MBBS exams. The letter submitted by Waseem’s family before the court is part of the application in which his counsel has sought the court’s direction to preserve the record of his mobile number and the CCTV of the airport.

The Indian legal system still believes in the phrase innocent until proven guilty, which was coined by the English lawyer Sir William Garrow. There was a well thought out reasoning in Garrow’s observation. He insisted that the accusers should be robustly tested in court and an objective observer in the position of the juror must reasonably conclude that the defendant almost certainly committed the crime.

But the media seem to be unmoved by such legal or ethical connotations and continue   pursuing their so-called investigation where information is simply passed on from unknown authorities to the public, without demur. There is no way to prove at this juncture, whether these accused are innocent or guilty. However, the way the media have been reporting the investigation of this blast is really a tragedy of journalism.

(The author is Editor, Special Projects, Dainik Bhaskar Group)

Courtesy: The Hoot


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