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'Attack On Press Freedom': J&K HC Quashes FIR Against Journalist For Reporting Police Torture

Jammu based reporter with a local newspaper Early Times Asif Iqbal Naik had published a story on April 19, 2018 edition of the paper about custodial torture of Kishtwar resident Akhter Hussain Hajam.

'Attack On Press Freedom': J&K HC Quashes FIR Against Journalist For Reporting Police Torture
J&H High Court upholds press freedom | PTI/File Photo
'Attack On Press Freedom': J&K HC Quashes FIR Against Journalist For Reporting Police Torture
outlookindia.com
2021-08-26T07:44:43+05:30

At a time when reporters in Kashmir are being regularly summoned by the police and cases are registered against them for their reportage and pictures, a judgment of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashing FIR registered by the police against a journalist for reporting police torture has come as a great relief.

“This is not in dispute that the petitioner is a journalist by profession and his job is to gather information and publish the same in the newspaper or in any other media. The information published in the form of news may pertain to issues of national, international importance or local in nature,”  the High Court observed on Wednesday saying it is of the considered opinion that the publication of the news item on the basis of the statements made by relatives of victims do not amount to an offence under section 499 RPC.

The Court said the mode and manner in which the FIR was lodged against the journalist clearly reflects the mala fide on the part of the police. The Court said the police could have given their version by similar mode but they chose a unique method of silencing the journalist and it is undoubtedly an attack on the freedom of the press.

“Needless to say the press is often referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy and freedom of the press is vital for the functioning of any democratic country like India. No fetters can be placed on the freedom of the press by registering the FIR against a reporter, who was performing his professional duty by publishing a news item on the basis of information obtained by him from an identifiable source,”  the Court said.

Jammu based reporter with a local newspaper Early Times Asif Iqbal Naik had published a story on April 19, 2018 edition of the paper about custodial torture of Kishtwar resident Akhter Hussain Hajam with the headline: "Father of 5 brutally tortured by Kishtwar Police”. The report quoted the victim’s cousin Irshad and his brother, Abdul Gani saying Hajam was subjected to brutal torture in Kishtwar Police station after being illegally confined for 27 days in a  disappearance case in March 2018 and later in April 2018. The report said after the torture he was shifted to a hospital in a critical condition. Abdul Gani had accused the then S.P. Kishtwar, the then Deputy SP HQ Kishtwar and the then SHO Police Station Kishtwar of torturing his brother. The report said the police were trying to fabricate a story to turn the case into an attempted suicide. Later Abdul Gani filed a criminal complaint against the police with similar contents as mentioned in the news report.

After the report was published, the police registered FIR having number 117/2018 on May 12, 2018, under sections 500, 504, and 505 RPC against Naik.

Naik, 36, moved the High Court describing the FIR as a move to stop him from publishing any news against the police establishment and to gag press and electronic media in general. The petition said the FIR against him amounts to infringement of the right of free speech and expression as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. 

In response, the police said on March 31, 2018, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted to trace out the missing person Tariq Hussain and the last calls to the missing person were found to be from Akhter Hussain. The police said it called Akhter Hussain and his wife Tahira Begum for inquiry on April 18, 2018. During the inquiry, the police claimed Akhter Hussain attempted to hang himself in the bathroom leading to his injuries. The police said the news report about the incident by Asif Iqbal Naik was an attempt to instigate peaceful people of Kishtwar against the Police. 

Naik told Outlook that journalists shouldn’t be treated as criminals. 

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