Delhi

Media must publish apology to acquitted innocents: Tribunal

The report of the jury that heard the first People’s Tribunal on Acquitted Innocents, held on October 2, 2016, took strong exception to “news coverage which destroys a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt, without any verdict in the court of law”.

The jury, which was chaired by Justice A.P. Shah, released its report -- Towards a Framework for Compensation and Rehabilitation for Victims of Wrongful Prosecution/Conviction -- in New Delhi on Saturday.

Holding that sections of the media had devastated lives “through sensationalism and partisan reporting”, the report urged the media to “strictly refrain from pronouncing the suspects/arrestees as guilty”, and to serve as objective institutions instead of becoming “mere handmaidens of investigating agencies”. It called upon publications and news channels that had put out defamatory material to “widely publish unconditional apology to the exonerees”.

Compensation

The People’s Tribunal, which gathered testimonies of several acquitted innocents, and the report of the jury, had been organised by The Innocence Network, an all-India collective that works for the rights of the wrongfully prosecuted or convicted.

Drawing on the principles of public law, the report called upon the government to “grant compensation to the exonerees for the loss and harm caused to them and for violating their right to life and liberty” under Article 21 of the Constitution.

One of the acquitted innocents, Mohammad Amir, a Delhi resident, was falsely accused in 19 terror cases, and had spent 14 years in prison. “The release of this report, coming as it does on International Human Rights Day, is an encouraging sign,” he said.

“It is also timely and relevant in the light of the alleged encounter killing of eight undertrials in Bhopal.”

‘Torture a routine practice’

Releasing the report, Justice Shah said that when a person dies in the custody of the State, the burden to prove their innocence should be on the custodians. “Torture has become a routine and endemic practice in investigative procedure in India,” he said.

“The Prevention of Torture Bill has been languishing in Parliament for more than four years, and no government seems interested in passing it despite India being a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture,” he added.

The report highlighted in particular the case of Nisar Ahmed, an innocent man who was made to spend 23 years in jail, after being convicted on the basis of a piece of evidence that, according to the Supreme Court, ought not to have been admitted in court in the first place. “

The rampant discourse on ‘war on terror’ legitimates the arrests of Muslim youth and grants impunity to investigators,” observed the report.


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