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Freedom after Delhi somersault

New Delhi, Jan. 13: A city court today set free Kashmir Times journalist Iftikar Geelani after the Centre decided to withdraw the case registered against him under the Official Secrets Act seven months ago.

Chief metropolitan magistrate Sangita Dhingra Sehgal discharged Geelani after going through additional public prosecutor Rajiv Mohan’s January 10 application moved under Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code, putting on record the government’s consent for withdrawal of prosecution against the journalist.

The court also directed the government to return to Geelani all his belongings seized during raids on his residence.

The journalist, who was present in the magistrate’s court along with his wife and other well wishers, will be released from Tihar jail after the discharge order reaches prison authorities.

Mohan, who cited a Supreme Court ruling to say the government can withdraw a case during the course of trial, also produced a letter written by Mukesh Mittal, director (internal security) of the Union home ministry, to Delhi’s principal secretary (home) R. Narayanaswami.

The one-page letter said: “The competent authority has decided on administrative grounds and in public interest that the case against the accused may be withdrawn.” Mittal, interestingly, was among those who were adamant in continuing with the prosecution till a couple of days back, despite the Directorate of Military Intelligence’s clean chit to Geelani on the supposed sensitive printouts on troop deployment recovered from the journalist’s house.

As ordered by the court, director-general, military intelligence, Lieutenant General O.S. Lochab, and Delhi deputy commissioner of police (special cell) Ashok Chand, who came on behalf of joint commissioner Neeraj Kumar, were present to clarify the controversy regarding the DGMI’s second opinion on the printouts.

The opinion furnished on December 12 had made it clear that the papers were of “negligible security value”. The home ministry had tried to negate it by arguing that the “tenability” of the DGMI’s report was not “relevant”.

Geelani’s counsel V.K. Ohri told reporters outside the court that it was up to the journalist and his family to decide whether to sue the government for damages. He added that the Centre on its own should give compensation for ruining the life of a journalist, his wife and two kids. Even the option of going to the National Human Rights Commission was open, he said, and so was dragging government officials to court.

Ohri also called for repealing the Official Secrets Act as many people have been falsely arrested under this archaic and draconian law.

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