2008 Malegaon blasts case: Purohit, Pragya give consent for in-camera trial
During a hearing in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court on Monday witnessed a divide among the accused over the agency’s plea for an in-camera trial to protect the identity of the witnesses and prevent publishing details in the media. While Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Pragya Thakur consented to it, Ramesh Upadhyay and Sameer Kulkarni objected to the idea. The court has scheduled the hearing on Wednesday.
“Considering the nature of allegations, the sensitivity of religious communities, safety, security and independence of the witnesses, the present application filed by the prosecution is supported by the accused (sic),” read the reply filed by Thakur on Monday. “The present matter conceives conflicting claims/ context of communities upon their religion, the proceedings of the matter and or any decision there to in harmony may violate the response of the public at large, which is apprehending threat to communal harmony, national security and public at large considering it has the potential to jeopardise fairness of the trial.”
She alleged that because of publication of the news in the media, she is subjected to media trial, which may affect her claim of being innocent and her plea of discharge.
Purohit, meanwhile, claimed that during the proceedings, he may bring on record certain facts and documents produced through the defence ministry, which are confidential in nature. “Use of these documents during cross-examination and various arguments will be required during the course of the trial. If the trial is not made in-camera, even an anti-national person, gangster and criminal will be entitled to attend this court and know the contents,” Purohit’s reply said. “A few years ago, an accused was shot dead outside the court hall by a gangster who was dressed as a lawyer. The accused states that due to disclosure of his confidential reports by ATS in the charge sheet, there is a possibility of anti-national elements becoming active and attending the court, which may pose a serious security threat not only to the court, but also to the witnesses and accused.”
Purohit mentioned threats to witnesses from ATS officers.
Upadhyay, however, claimed the application is moved under the provision of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. As the applicability of the Act is under challenge before the high court, the plea is not maintainable, he said.
He alleged the plea is belated just to avoid giving untruncated copies of the charge sheet to the accused, also questioning the agency for filing the plea one-and-a-half year after quashing of MCOCA charges. “The NIA itself found many witnesses went back on their statements sworn before the magistrate and became hostile without any public pressure. There is no accusation against any accused, who are out on bail, of approaching any witness or trying to influence them or the course of trial in any manner.”
The lawyers of the victims have also filed a reply objecting to the NIA’s plea. “Every victim/individual may not [be] able to witness the trial of a particular matter even if he/she feels concerned about the same, an open access to people/victim/journalist to any criminal trial is as important as any aspect of free trial,” Shahid Ansari, one of the lawyers, in the reply, said, adding, “It is necessary for communal harmony that court should remain open for all because the whole world wants to know about this case and its proceedings.”