Ahmedabad: In a sinister move to gag the press in Gujarat of Narendra Modi, the Panchmahals (Godhra) district police have booked TV journalist Rahul Singh as co-accused in a case pertaining to digging of the mass graves at Panderwada, near Godhra, in 2005. The police have got a court summon issued to question Rahul who was working with Sahara TV channel here then.
The police have booked five persons including Rais Khan, a former aide of noted civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad. Setalvad’s Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) have been fighting cases of Muslim victims of 2002 Gujarat riots.
A team of Gujarat police on Wednesday descended at the Bhopal residence of Rahul. A convoy of four police vehicles from Godhra surrounded Rahul's house from all sides, creating panic and terror in the locality.
Police told his family members that they wanted to take Rahul to Gujarat for questioning in the mass grave digging case which he had reported for Sahara Samay. As Rahul was not present at his house, his family members were told to accept the summons and produce Rahul to the police but his father N K Singh, resident editor of the Bhopal edition of The Hindustan Times, declined to receive the summons.
The police left Rahul's house when local and national TV journalists reached the spot and questioned them as to why they had come to Rahul's house.
Rahul had joined Times Now in Bhopal and is currently working with Headlines Today in Delhi.
Though it is not known as to what exactly the police want to extract from Rahul, but police sources say that they want to know from Rahul who had informed him about the digging of the mass grave. So, the police want him to reveal his source, which journalists all over the world hold as the most sacred and never divulge even if they have to go to prison.
As the relatives of 27 Muslims killed during riots in Panderwada were locating their bodies, they came to know that they were buried in a mass grave in the bed of Panam river, near Lunavada, in Panchmahals (Godhra) district.
On December 27, 2005, the victims began digging the river bed and found the skeletons. Some of them informed mediapersons as well as CJP as it was extending legal assistance to riot victims.
While media reported the news of Muslim riot victims buried in a mass grave and discovery of their skeletons, police lodged an FIR against CJP coordinator Rais Khan and those involved in the digging on charges of destroying evidence. Rais Khan was in 2008 expelled by Setalvad as the latter suspected him to be working in collusion with the state government.
But police could not arrest Rais Khan and others as CJP got a bail for them from the Gujarat high court. The high court also stayed further proceedings in the case.
Later on, the Supreme Court issued orders for DNA testing of the skeletons and eight of them were identified.
But after Rais Khan quit company with Setalvad, one of the accused in the case withdrew his petition from the high court. The high court on November 24, 2010, vacated the stay in the case. After this Rais Khan and three others surrendered to the Panchmahals police. During interrogation, Rais Khan is reported to have told that he had helped the riot victims at the instance of Setalvad.
Human rights activists believe that the whole exercise to know who ordered digging of the grave and who informed the media is aimed at implicating Setalvad, who has become a headache for the Modi government by extending full support to the riot victims.
Gujarat-based human rights activists have strongly condemned the police bid to question Rahul, saying it amounted to an attack on freedom of expression.
Noted human rights activist J S Bandukwala said that Rahul and other mediapersons, who reported the mass grave digging, deserved to be felicitated as they had exposed how the police buried those killed in the riots without informing their relatives and kept it a secret. He urged media not to buckle to the Gujarat police and give tough fight to uphold freedom of the press.
[Photo by Indiadaily.org]