People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 19, 2003

Shades of State Terror

Journalist Gilani’s Case

He who steals my purse steals thrash,

But he that filches from me my good name;

                           Robs me of not what not enriches him

                             But makes me poor indeed.

                                                                         --- William Shakespeare

S K Pande


BELIEVE it or not, journalist Iftikhar Gilani was, according to the government last June something akin to a spy, said to be keeping official secrets. Today he has no official secret; the case is withdrawn. On January 13, the government had to shamefacedly withdraw its case against him to prevent itself from a rather piquant situation where two of its ministries would have given totally contradictory opinions. A journalist living by writing is today broken, his family is in a shambles as he gets set to re-enter journalism, after more than seven months in jail.

One thing is clear: we have before us the case of a journalist who, after over seven long months in Delhi’s notorious Tihar jail, with not even bail being given, is finally a free man. The police have withdrawn their main cases under the Official Secrets Act, with a case under the Obscenity Act added to it. But what about the trauma, the suffering and the torture? Who will compensate him is something more than a personal matter. It will have to be answered some day. For there can be other Gilanis just as there may be another Tehelka, and there may be more jingoists trying for frame-ups.

Incidentally, on the same day as he was released, as a double jolt to the government, the Supreme Court granted bail to Tehelka’s Kumar Badal who was languishing in a UP jail and had faced torture too. In the backdrop is the Tehelka portal bleeding financially, on the verge of collapse, with the government waiting to write its epitaph. Its chief Tarun Tejpal is making a determined fight, backed fully by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), some editors and many journalists.

The total rot in the art of governance, a revanchist attitude towards Kashmiri Muslims and virtually an attempt to choose a simple professional journalist to teach non-government journalists a lesson --- this is what lies at the core of the Gilani story. Behind the story also lies a tale of determination of a handful of journalists, helped by crusading journalists and the DUJ.

Gilani was arrested for possessing ‘official secrets’ in June 2002 and released in January as there is no case against him. The question being asked is: how far the Official Secrets Act and POTA can be a weapon to terrorise journalists? Who will decide what is a secret and what is not? Will the home ministry decide it? Can it overrule even the military? It is even suspected that the government was after Gilani and therefore an aura of espionage was created, an image of a cloak and dagger anti-nationalist from Kashmir. And his crime is: he had married a Kashmiri leader’s daughter. The government remained unsure of his real crime. The first military report suggested that the information with him was ‘secret.’ But the information was publicly available! The second military intelligence report blurted out the truth. There was no ‘official secret,’ though the government again said there was a secret.

It is another fact that the secret documents Gilani had are available with hundreds of journalists. Even after this was made known, the government denied a military intelligence opinion and was on the verge of challenging it when contradictions came out in the open and were exposed in the press. For this the press and those working on the case deserve kudos.

The military intelligence opinion showed there was a fabricated case of violation of the Official Secrets Act. The case was ultimately torn apart as the opinion clearly stated, “the information contained in the document is easily available” and “the documents carries no security classified information and the information seems to have been gathered from open sources.”

For journalists it is more than just another case. For ten-year old documents said to be confidential are available on the net and in research institutes. And hundreds of journalists could have documents marked confidential if they do their homework. They are asking how a decade old document could be an official secret. Or, are we coming back to an era of official news yes, exclusives no? To that dark era when journalists were expected to bend and stoop and began to crawl?

Another claim of doubtful intent was that the law ministry was consulted by the home ministry and had observed that since the thrust of the case is on the nature of the information under consideration, which is prejudicial to the safety and security of the country, the tenability of the second opinion of the DGMI does not appear to be relevant. Law ministry also stated that Gilani has been in close touch of Pakistan high commission.

Clearly, the different departments saying different things and a series of dates in court are pointers to an effort to ensure that Gilani remained in jail. It is also a fact that the government deliberately delayed filing of chargesheet till September 7, the day Gilani would have got statutory bail as the law provides that nobody can be locked up for more than 90 days without a chargesheet.

Incidentally, in reply to a complaint from the DUJ, the Press Council of India had ruled in September that the possession of any document already published and widely available on the internet cannot attract the provisions of the Official Secrets Act.

Subsequently the DUJ carried on a series of agitations protesting against attacks on the press from Outlook, Tehelka, Gilani to Badal. Other organisations of civil liberties and concerned journalists chipped in. Under the DUJ banner, journalists demonstrated outside the home ministry. Many journalists kept the issue alive despite malicious propaganda.

If Gilani’s arrest was meant to terrorise journalists, it has boomeranged. Not only the DUJ, but senior editors, civil liberties bodies and eminent lawyers all supported Gilani. In fact many see a continuum in the government selectively targeting journalists and journalism bodies.


After suffering more than seven months in Tihar jail, the Kashmir Times Delhi bureau chief, Iftikhar Gilani, was finally released on January 13 evening. His first words were a message to his brethren in the journalistic community: “If they can do it to me, they can do it to you tomorrow. My case should be a wake-up call for all journalists and concerned citizens.”

He said he shuddered to think of the fate of citizens and journalists living in small towns, who may be wronged by the arms of the government. “Who will speak for them?” he asked.

Many journalists, including DUJ office bearers, had reached Tihar Jail to receive Gilani. In a written statement released on his release, Gilani expressed happiness at the restoration of his honour and prestige by the withdrawal of the case against him. He felt this was right time for all right-thinking persons, journalists and politicians to reflect on drastically amending the Official Secrets Act, a British legacy that can be misused and abused by the vested elements in the government to lock up and harass honest persons.

While expressing thanks to all those who fought against the attempt to incriminate him, Gilani promised to continue his endeavour in journalism to expose people who are destroying the system from within. (INN)