"If he is a terrorist, why would so many people come out and protest and demand his release," asked a protester.
Even as leading English dailies give the impression that 'Few vouch for Kazmi's innocence', a two thousand strong crowd gathered at India Gate to demand the release of senior journalist Syed Mohammed Kazmi, who was arrested by the Delhi Police Special Cell in connection with last month's blast outside the Israeli embassy in Delhi."If he is a terrorist, why would so many people come out and protest and demand his release," asked a protester.
Men, women and children, old and young, many journalists, gathered with candles and placards. All of them were demanding an end to what they see as a grave injustice towards a distinguished journalist. And most of them refuse to believe that someone as honest and professional as Kazmi, would ever engage in such a heinous crime of being involved in a plot to bomb an Israeli diplomat. The anti-America and anti-Israel slogans at the emotionally charged protest venue reflect that the arrest is being seen as a case of the Indian government buckling under pressure from Israel. The belief, as the placards said, is that justice has been compromised and an honest person made a scapegoat.
In a corner, his younger son was overheard complaining how the mainstream media has refused to report their side of the story and that his father is being mentally tortured in police remand. He said the police was leaving no stone unturned in their attempt to extract a confession from him. In fact the police haven't clearly stated the set of charges against him and there are conflicting reports in the media about the situation.
Even the journalistic fraternity is aghast at the manner in which a senior journalist like Kazmi is being targeted. On Saturday, a press conference was held at the ANHAD office in Delhi, addressed by journalists Saeed Naqvi, Seema Mustafa and Sukumar Murlidharan, advocate N.C. Pancholi, ANHAD's Shabnam Hashmi, Manisha Sethi of the JTSA and Kazmi's son Shauzab Kazmi. The panelists condemned the arrest and demanded his release.
"What has happened to Kazmi has to be condemned in the strongest terms. This will stifle political views, independent thinking and instill fear. There is already a fear of corporates which haunts journalists when they write. This will now instill a bigger fear, that of the state, that you cannot hold views different from those of the government", Seema Mustafa had said.
Mustafa had also criticized the manner in which Kazmi's arrest has been reported. "Maybe the English speaking media doesn't know Kazmi, but he has been a journalist for the last 25-30 years. He has taken positions on the middle east which make him an automatic suspect if you go by the standards of how Israel functions, but not a suspect by democratic standards". Citing earlier cases like that of Iftikhar Gilani, Mustafa criticized reporters for functioning like they were stenographers of the police. Even his profile has been reported exactly according to the police version with no effort made to at least convey correctly the nature and time span of his career, something which can be easily done by talking to his friends and family.
She demanded an "investigation into the functioning of the Special cell of the Delhi police which has been involved in extortions, encounters and kidnapping". She also added that the" Special Cell should be disbanded as it is working against the interests of people".
Delhi Police's Special Cell came under criticism from all the panelists at the meeting because of the manner in which it has functioned in the past. Sukumar Murlidharan felt that its "effectiveness as an investigative agency is subject to serious questioning". Like Mustafa, he too said that this would have a "chilling effect on free speech." The panelists also criticized the reports that Israeli agencies would be called in to interrogate him.
Saeed Naqvi, referring to Kazmi as a "distinguished Urdu journalist" with whom he has worked, observed that "a war is being fought in the airwaves by the media." "We do not have people reporting from the Middle East. The result is that the judge, jury, executioner and communicator is one and the same in how global information is passed on." Kazmi was one of the few who actually reported from areas in the Middle East. The attack on him therefore is an attack on these "new ways of communicating information, a connection the elite does not seem to be aware of."
Kazmi's son Shauzab too felt his father was being framed just because he covers the Middle East. "He is the only journalist who covered the Iraq war and is a national hero". He added that the fake news and allegations have been "disappointing and shameful." Shabnam Hashmi linked these developments to the various incidents of innocent people being framed in such cases for years now. For her, this was not just an attack on journalistic freedom, but also a part of how people at different levels are being targeted just because they happen to have Muslim names. She ended at an emotionally charged note about how Muslims of the country do not feel safe because of such targeting.
The meeting was attended by several senior journalists who were there to express their solidarity. The fact that this was an attack on dissent was underlined again and again by the panelists. "It can happen to anyone tomorrow", Seema Mustafa said.
(The article was first publish in Hardnews)