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Hunted for being somebody’s son-in-law
Iftikhar Gilani’s Ordeal
Booked for breaching "official secret" that is public knowledge for years
Kashmir Times Delhi bureau Chief Iftikhar Geelani has some very unjournalistic habits: he does not drink or smoke, does not go to late-night parties, does not curry favour with politicians. He is gentle to the point of being meek.
Professional solidarity: Journalists in Srinagar protesting against Iftekhar Geelani’s arrest
That is why when Delhi Police nabbed him on June 9 on charges of violating the Official Secrets Act (OSA), fellow journalists were amazed. He would have been the last person to have a brush with the law.
People did talk about his being the son-in-law of hardline Hurriyat leader Ali Shah Geelani, who was arrested under POTA the same day. The connection and the coincidence bothered the journalistic fraternity. Was Iftikhar framed up for being the elder Geelani’s son-in-law?
Iftikhar’s editor Prabodh Jamwal vouchsafed for his integrity, saying he was a thorough professional who never took any specific political line. He even critisised his father-in-law’s policies in print and in personal conversation. His wife Aanisa said: "My father’s politics is entirely different, and my husband’s profession is entirely different. There is no correlation".
Iftikhar was booked under OSA for keeping on his computer disc "sensitive" material related to deployment of forces on the Indo-Pak Line of Control. His lawyer has already told the court that the "sensitive" information is public knowledge for the last 6 years and similar information (only more up-to-date) is freely available on the Internet.
Iftikhar’s lawyer VK Ohri wonders how could commonly available information become "sensitive", and how was such old information relevant today.
After the arrest, the entire journalistic corps in Srinagar walked up to the Governor House to present a memorandum to the governor, showing resentment on the heavyhanded way Iftikhar was treated for being somebody’s son-in-law. The only hope is that he was not booked under POTA, and his wife was allowed to visit him.
Iftikhar has not complained of any torture. He told reporters his conscience was clear. Yet he was "at sea" about why at all he should have been framed up in the OSA case.
The conduct of some people in the journalistic fraternity has not helped either. Quite a few reporters lapped up police version of unsubstantiated charges against him without taking the trouble of verifying them before rushing off to print.
The " sensitive" material found on his computer was authored by a Pakistani, Nazir Kamal, for Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad, in January 1996. They had mailed it to 10 institutions in India, including government-run Institute of Defence Studies and Strategic Analysis and Indian Council of World Affairs.
After finding the charges unsubstantiated, the police have added Section 292 of the IPC to his remand, accusing him of exhibiting and distributing pornographic material. Iftikhar says the porn cassettes had earlier been meant to be shown to have been recovered from his father-in-law’s house in Delhi, which was locked. Now that the OSA case against him does not hold water (how can it be a "secret" if a Pakistani journal has already published it six years ago?), the police have added this new set of allegations in what Iftikhar calls "desperation".
The police also claim to have discovered pornographic e-mail on his computer. Iftikhar says he gets e-mail from all over the world as his e-mail address is printed close to the masthead of Kashmir Times. Quite a few "floating " (unsolicited) messages land on his computer everyday, many of which he does not even read.
Iftikhar’s lawyer has said he would challenge the addition of the new charges in the court. Just, in case, the police are also busy finding yet another route to keep him confined. They say they are looking into his financial assets.
Four hundred journalists in the national capital took out a procession against harassment of their fellow professionals recently. Later, a delegation of Delhi Union of Journalists, led by its president SK Pandey, called on Union home minister LK Advani (he was yet to be Deputy PM then), and handed him a memorandum showing concern over government and its myriad agencies harassing and intimidating journalists who refuse to follow government line. Advani assured the delegation that the complaint would be looked into.
The international organisatsation of journalists, Reporters Without Frontiers, has expressed concern over the anti-media stance of the government and asked it to ensure that journalists are not harassed illegally.
The Editors Guild and Congress Party have also shown concern over the government’s anti-media stance.