The Delhi High Court Thursday asked the Delhi Police to file a report on vigilance inquiry conducted on the allegation of leaking to media confessional statement of a Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) university student, who was arrested in a case related to communal violence in northeast Delhi during protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act in February.
Justice Vibhu Bakhru also asked the police to indicate in the status report, further steps which it proposes to take in this regard.
The high court was informed by advocate Amit Mahajan, representing the Delhi Police, that the vigilance inquiry with regard to the confessional statement being leaked from the case diaries has been concluded. He sought time to file the status report in this regard.
The high court was hearing a plea by JMI student Asif Iqbal Tanha alleging misconduct by police officials in leaking his disclosure statement, recorded by the probe agency during the investigation, to the media.
Advocate Siddharth Aggarwal, appearing for Tanha, submitted that apart from examining the question as to the steps taken by the police regarding the leak of documents, a cognisable offence has also been committed and it is necessary to take proper action.
He contended that the action of the media houses — Zee News Media Corporation Ltd and OpIndia — in placing such documents in the media violated the programme code and sought time to file a written statement in this regard.
The high court, which deleted social media platforms Facebook and YouTube from the list of parties, listed the matter for further hearing on January 18.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook, submitted that they are only intermediaries and have no role to play since the alleged offending news item is being uploaded by the media houses.
He said if any order is passed to take down the articles, the intermediaries are obliged to do that.
The high court had earlier questioned Zee News over broadcast of the alleged confession statement of Tanha in the riots case, saying such documents cannot be taken out and published.
It had directed the media house to file an affidavit disclosing the name of the source from whom the concerned journalist got the documents.
Advocate Vijay Aggarwal, representing Zee News, had argued that pressing for disclosure of source would amount to interfering with the freedom of press as guaranteed under the Constitution and in a situation where the source of information is not protected or safeguarded, the freedom of press will be severely jeopardised or interfered with.
The high court, however, had said it does not think that it's a journalist’s right to take out the case diary and publish it and that the news report cannot be based on documents which are not in the public domain.
Earlier, the Deputy Commissioner of Police (special cell) in an affidavit had said that Delhi Police was also aggrieved by the news report in which the alleged confessional statement of Tanha was leaked out.
The police affidavit had also stated that none of its officials indulged in the investigation of the case leaked out the information to the media.
The high court had asked two media houses and two social media platforms to respond to the plea which also sought direction to take down the sensitive/confidential information leaked to them by the officials of Delhi Police.
The high court had also refused to pass an ex-parte order directing the media houses, Zee News and OpIndia and social networking platforms Facebook and YouTube to remove the content and had said that it will pass necessary orders after hearing all the parties.
Tanha, in his petition, said he was aggrieved by various publications reporting that he has confessed to orchestrating the Delhi riots and alleged that he was coerced to sign certain papers in the effective custody of police.
It said this information does not have any evidentiary value and alleged that the Delhi Police officials, with malafide intention, leaked the statements to the media to prejudice his case.
Tanha, who was arrested in May, is currently lodged in judicial custody in the Delhi riots case.
Tanha, a third-year student of BA in Persian language, was earlier arrested in connection with the violence in the Jamia area during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December last year.
The police had said that Tanha, a resident of Abul Fazal Enclave in Shaheen Bagh, was a member of the Students Islamic Organization and was part of the Jamia Coordination Committee which spearheaded protests against the new citizenship law.
"Tanha is a key member of the Jamia Coordination Committee and played an active role in organising protests and riots in Jamia in December 2019. He is a close associate of Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Meeran Haider and Safoora Zargar who had been key organisers of anti-CAA protests and subsequent riots," the police had said.
On December 15 last year, protesters had turned violent, torching four public buses and two police vehicles and pelting stones at the police and civilians, near JMI. At least 40 people including students, policemen and firefighters were injured in the incident.
Communal clashes had broken out in northeast Delhi on February 24 after violence between citizenship law supporters and protesters spiralled out of control leaving at least 53 people dead and around 200 injured.