By Mahtab Alam
New Delhi: In a rare show of solidarity from different quarters, the demand for the immediate release of noted Urdu journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi is growing stronger and stronger. Over a few days, many press conferences have been organized across the country by Journalists Unions, Civil Society Organizations and Muslim groups. Kazmi, a senior Urdu Journalist with “extraordinary linguistic skills”, in veteran Journalist Saeed Naqvi’s words, was picked on 6th March while returning home from India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) in South Delhi’s Lodhi Road area. Kazmi lived at the nearby B K Dutt Colony of Jor Bagh area. The Delhi Police have alleged Kazmi’s involvement in terms of local support in carrying out the attack on the Israeli Diplomat’s car last month. The very next day, the police produced him before the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav at the Tis Hazari court. The court sent him in police custody till March 20th for further investigation.
Eminent journalists and activists have condemned the arrest. Just a day after the arrest, Delhi Union Journalists (DUJ), considered to be the largest body of Journalists in India, demanded immediate release of Mr. Kazmi. “The Delhi Union of Journalists condemns the arrest of veteran journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi by the police in connection with last month’s attack on the car of an Israeli diplomat in Delhi”, said a statement issued by DUJ. It further mentioned, “The DUJ cautions that Mr. Kazmi must not be victimized merely because he has worked for Iranian Broadcasting and written for Persian newspapers… The DUJ feels strongly that journalists must not be targeted because of their professional work, sources and connections”. Joining DUJ, The International Federation of Journalists (IJF), Asia-Pacific said, “With all respect for the legal process in India, the IFJ is concerned that Kazmi may have been identified for the arrest based on his political views, rather than solid evidence”. Similarly, the Coordination Committee of Indian Muslims (CCIM) in its statement said, “It is a matter of alarm that now a senior member of the Urdu journalist community has been arrested without any apparent evidence or proof. Muhammad Ahmad Kazmi is a senior Urdu journalist of long standing who works and writes in the higher interests of the country”.
On 9th of March, as many as four Press conferences were organized by different groups in Delhi and Lucknow. In the Press Conference organized by DUJ at the Press Club of India, Delhi, veteran Journalist Saeed Naqvi said, “This arrest of a high-profile journalist is an attack on the journalistic fraternity in the country. They (State) want to see how many of us can be cowed down by such arrests.” Recalling his personal association with Mr. Kazmi he said, “I have personally known Kazmi for 10-15 years. He is as honourable and as honest a person I have ever worked with”. He appealed to the media persons to come out and speak because tomorrow it could be anybody of us. After the press conference, a delegation of journalists headed by DUJ Secretary, S K Pande, submitted a memorandum to the Information and Broadcasting Minister, Mrs. Ambika Soni A similar memorandum was submitted to the Delhi Police Commissioner and the Chairman of the Press Council of India. The demands of the memorandum were:
a) Kindly withdraw the charges framed against Mr Kazmi under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act until the investigations are completed, to establish any kind of his involvement in the car bomb blast.
b) Stop the custodial interrogation since Mr Kazmi is fully cooperating and ready to be available to assist the Police whenever required in its investigation.
c) Stop all sorts of allegations against Mr Kazmi being palmed off to the gullible journalists by the Delhi Police officers anonymously and ensure that no such allegations are planted in the Media until presented before the Court.
d) If the Police have foolproof evidence against Mr Kazmi, a charge-sheet may be filed without delay to let him apply for bail.
Meanwhile, Communist Party of India (CPI) leaders Mr. A B Vardhan and Mr. Atul Kumar Anjan also demanded for the immediate release of Mr. Kazmi. On the next day, three more press conferences were organized in Delhi by Civil Society Groups at ANHAD’s office, CCIM at the Press Club of India and Lok Janshati Party Chief Ram Vilas Paswan at his residence, namely. In all the press conferences, the immediate release of Mr. Kazmi was demanded. The press conference held at ANHAD’s office was addressed by senior journalists Seema Mustafa, Sukumar Muralidharan (also representative of IFJ) and Saeed Naqvi; Senior Advocate N D Pancholi; Activists Manisha Sethi and Shabnam Hashim; and Mr. Kazmi’s youngest son, Turab Ahmed Kazmi. TheYoung Kazmi reiterated that his father was innocent and appealed to the media community to help the family to bring his father back home.
“I am glad to see that so many people have come out in support of Mr. Kazmi”, says Iftikhar Gilani in an informal discussion with journalists and activists. Iftikhar Gilani, a senior journalist based in Delhi, was booked under the draconian Official Secrets Act (OSA) in June 2002 and had to spend seven long months without bail. He was released only in January 2003, after the government withdrew its case against him on January 13, 2003. Many believe that Kazmi’s arrest is a repetition of what has happened with Mr. Gilani. He was severely tortured and badly treated both during the Police and the Judicial Custody (Jail). “In my case, there were few who came out in solidarity”, added Mr. Gilani.
Through a statement, eminent citizens, academicians, film stars and activists have also condemned the arrest. “Mr. Kazmi is well respected and known to the journalist fraternity for his professional integrity. We demand that he be immediately released on bail and the due process of law followed”, reads the statement. The statement has been signed by the likes of Writer and Activist Arundhati Roy, Veteran Actress Sharmila Tagore, NAC member Farha Naqvi, Film-actress Nandita Das, Film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, JNU, Prof. Nirmalangshu Mukherjee, University of Delhi, Senior Journalist Saeed and Javed Naqvi, Dr. Zafarul Islam Khan and dozens of others. Various groups have also written to the Union Home Minister of India.
Not satisfied with only holding press conferences and releasing appeals, the family, friends and fellow journalists are planning to hold protest march and dharnas. On 12th of March (Monday), in the evening around 7 PM, hundreds of them will be assembling at India Gate to hold a peace march seeking justice for Mr. Kazmi. The organizer of the march has appealed to the citizens and journalists, to join it in large numbers. Similarly, the CCIM has said that if Mr. Kazmi is not released, tt will hold a dharna at Jantar Mantar on 26th March to press its demand”. “In this regard, the group has also written to the Union Home Minister, Chairman of Press Council of India and the Commissioner of Police.
(Mahtab Alam is a Delhi based Civil Rights Activist and Freelance Journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)