Journalist Iftikhar Gilani, the Kashmir Times’ correspondent in New Delhi, remains imprisoned after Judge Sangeeta Dhingra Shehgal on 31 July postponed until 8 August consideration of his request to be released on bail. His detention was criticized by the Press Council of India two days before this decision.
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF) called today on US secretary of state Colin Powell to raise the case of an imprisoned Kashmiri journalist during his forthcoming official visit to India.
"Your intervention in favour of the reporter, Iftikhar Gilani, the New Delhi bureau chief of the Kashmir Times, one of the province’s largest newspapers, would have great symbolic importance for journalists in both Kashmir and India," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Powell.
"I am sure you will agree that independent media coverage is vital in the search for a political solution to the Kashmir conflict. Gilani is a respected journalist who was simply exercising his right to inform the public," Ménard said.
Gilani has been held in Tehar prison in New Delhi since 9 June after being arrested by police and tax officials at his home for supposedly being a Pakistani spy receiving money from the Pakistani government. Because there was no proof of this, he was charged on 11 June under the Official Secrets Act.
Police said they found secret documents in his house, but the journalist explained they were extracts from a 1997 US State Department report and had already been published in the Indian daily The Hindu. Gilani’s lawyer, V.K.Ohri, showed the court that the documents were not enough to find the journalist guilty under the Official Secrets Act since the material was freely available on the Internet.
Since then, police have also charged Gilani with violating Article 292 of the Criminal Code for showing pornographic films at his home. This new charge, added without the court’s agreement, was objected to on 18 July by Judge Sangita Dhingra Sehgal. But she refused a request to release the journalist on bail.
The Delhi Journalists’ Union said Gilani had been physically attacked in prison by other inmates, most of them criminals, and that the prison authorities had refused to let him use the library.
Reporters Without Borders considers that Gilani has been arrested solely because of coverage of the Kashmir conflict, in which he criticised the Indian government.