In the name of preserving law and order in the hours following the hanging of Afzal Guru, the Delhi police detained a senior and well-respected Delhi journalist, Iftikhar Gilani, for no reason other than that he was the son-in-law of the Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. While Mr. Gilani was illegally confined for five hours, his children were locked up in a room in his house. When he was finally freed, he was not offered any explanation either for his detention or for his being let off without charge. The actions of the police officers involved in this fiasco need to be seriously probed, and those found guilty should be, as Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju has suggested in a letter to Union Home Secretary R.K. Singh, placed under suspension and criminal proceedings instituted against them in quick time. Enforcing security measures is serious business, and should not be left in the hands of officers who see no contradiction in abusing their authority. What makes the confinement of Mr. Gilani even worse is that the Delhi Police appears not to have learnt any lesson from the time it threw him in jail on trumped up charges. The unfortunate journalist spent nine months in Tihar Jail charged with violating the Indian Official Secrets Act for possessing an article published by a Pakistani think-tank on its website!
None of the errant officers involved in the foisting of this bogus case were taken to task then, nor was he compensated for the malicious prosecution he was subjected to. If those involved in harassing him this time around are allowed to get away with their illegal behaviour, what is the guarantee that Mr. Gilani — or any other innocent Kashmiri — is not subjected to the ‘midnight knock’ again? While curfew and preventive arrests are not uncommon in situations where the police anticipate a law and order problem, the ham-handed harassment of Mr. Gilani and the manner in which Kashmir has been virtually shut down since Saturday suggests the Union Home Ministry went through a seizure of panic right after the Afzal Guru hanging. Cable television services were suspended and restrictions placed on the dissemination of news. Mobile internet services were deactivated, and newspapers forcibly kept off the stands, according to some reports. All of these are symptoms of an undeclared state of Emergency. Political and executive mismanagement of situations like these could have very harmful long-term consequences. The government will urgently need to restore the people’s confidence, not in its ability to maintain law and order, but in its ability to uphold the principle of equality before the law, in the equal treatment under the law for all citizens.