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Zafar Mehdi
Zafar Mehdi
Syed Zafar Mehdi is a journalist with the Hindustan Times in New Delhi.
'Free Kazmi' campaign gets bigger and louder
The 50-year-old journalist is being made a scapegoat because of his anti-establishment beliefs, say supporters.
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2012 19:51
Supporters of detained journalist Kazmi held a vigil for his freedom at India Gate in New Delhi [AP]

New Delhi, India - The clamour for the release of journalist Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, detained in connection with the recent attack on an Israeli diplomat's car in New Delhi, is gaining momentum with each passing day. The relentless protests against his "unlawful" arrest by Delhi Police's Special Cell have spread across the country. There have also been allegations of custodial torture and third-degree harassment levelled against police by the scribe's family.

On Saturday March 17, hearing a petition filed by Kazmi's family, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadav slammed police officials and instructed them to wear their proper uniforms, with name tags, during interrogations - and asked them to maintain a register of those officers who questioned the journalist. Kazmi's counsel asked the court to be allowed to be present during interrogations, so that he could ascertain who was questioning the suspect, and whether or not he was being subjected to harassment. His family has alleged that Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has questioned him, attempting to force him into a confession.

Originally from Dholri village in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Kazmi moved to Delhi almost 20 years ago. He has worked in the media since the 1980s, with the Iran-based IRNA, the BBC, and UNI, besides being a regular columnist for Urdu language newspapers. He also covered the Iraq war, and, more recently, the political unrest in Syria.

The 50-year-old writer and broadcaster was picked up by police on March 7, while he was returning to his home in Jor Bagh from the India Islamic Cultural Centre on Lodhi Road. He has been accused of providing the "logistical support" to the main bombing suspects. The accused bombers, apparently Iranians, have already fled the country, police claim. Kazmi's family, friends and colleagues have trashed the charges against him as baseless and manufactured. They say he has been framed, primarily because he is an outspoken critic of US and Israeli policy - and the government needs a scapegoat.

He is being held under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which allows him to be held for 20 days in police custody, which, according to legal experts, is grossly disproportionate in such a case - where police have yet to produce evidence against the accused.

Demonstrations, like this one in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, have been held across India [Zafar Mehdi/Al Jazeera]

Campaign intensifies

Meanwhile, supporters of the arrested scribe have intensified their campaign to press for his release. On March 9, the Delhi Union of Journalists held a press conference to show their support for the Press Information Bureau-accredited journalist.

"The DUJ cautions that Mr Kazmi must not be victimised, merely because he has worked for Iranian broadcasting and written for Persian newspapers," said the uinion's statement. 

"The DUJ feels strongly that journalists must not be targeted because of their professional work, sources and connections." 

On March 10, The Asia-Pacific branch of the International Federation of Journalists, issued a statement to condemn Kazmi's arrest: "With all respect for the legal process in India, the IFJ is concerned that Kazmi may have been identified for the arrest based on his political views, rather than solid evidence." 

Shabnam Hashmi, of Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, asked: "Has Mr. Kazmi been picked up on tips provided by Israeli agencies? How credible can these inputs be, given Israel's clear intent to condemn and implicate Iran as the source of the attack."

The campaign broadens

On March 11, the Coordination Committee of Indian Muslims criticised police, saying the journalist had been arrested without evidence against him. "It is a matter of alarm that now a senior member of the Urdu journalist community has been arrested without any apparent evidence or proof," said the committee. 

The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) also expressed its outrage at Kazmi's arrest, and the harassment of another senior journalist, John Cherian. "Following the blatantly high-handed arrest of Kazmi, there was an attempt to enter the house of Cherian [on] Sunday on the specious plea of a hoax call. These independent journalists whose professional integrity is above reproach are being targeted to create a fear psychosis," said a statement.

Joining the fray on the same day, a group of 71 high-profile personalities - including journalists, social activists, film-makers and writers - issued a joint statement condemning the arrest. "We fear that Mr Kazmi may be made a scapegoat to please an international lobby," they said. "It is no secret that Israel held Iran culpable within minutes of the attack."

The following day, March 12, the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM) wrote an open letter to the home minister, the local governor and the police commissioner. "The Muslim community is pained to see that the at-random arrests of Muslim youth, which started a few weeks ago, are only continuing, and now the arrest of a person of Mr Kazmi's stature points to a serious escalation, where even senior members of the community are not safe from arrest at the hands of the police on totally unproven and wild charges."

Activism

There was a candle-lit vigil at India Gate on March 13 and a sit-in demonstration at Jantar Mantar on March 16, which saw the tremendous participation of people from a wide array of walks of life, blurring religious and ideological lines. A delegation of 13 Muslim MPs, led by Sultan Ahmad of the Trinamool Congress, also visited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and urged him to ensure no injustice was carried out in the case.

Kazmi's son Shauzab Kazmi, SQR Illyasi of Jamaat e Islami and I addressed a public meeting organised by the Democratic Students Union in Jawaharlal Nehru University on March 16. "Kazmi's arrest does not come as a surprise, as it follows the well-known pattern of a minority witch-hunt by the Indian state," said the DSU.

Kazmi's son, Turab, is skipping his exams to help organise the fight for his father's freedom [Zafar Mehdi/Al Jazeera]

Condemnations of Kazmi's arrest have also come from the Communist Party of India and the Lok Janshati Party.

"Government has made the arrest without a proper probe," said CPI General Secretary AB Bardhan. "This journalist dealt with the Palestine and Israel issue, what's the harm in that? [This] is an attempt by the government to please Israel."

There have been many solidarity marches, peaceful protests, sit-in demonstrations and press conferences held by Kazmi's supporters across the country - including in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Aligarh, Meerut, Lucknow, and even as far afield as the UK and Muscat.

"It is good to see people standing up and speaking out for my father, who has been framed on totally bogus charges," said Kazmi's 23-year-old son, Shauzab. He has been busy attending protests, giving press conferences, meeting lawyers, and looking after the family ever since his father's arrest.

Meanwhile, his supporters have planned a huge demonstration outside the Indian parliament on March 26.

"We will spare no effort to prove his innocence, and I am pretty confident that the truth will prevail in the end," his son Shauzab said.

Shauzab's brother, Turab, has decided to skip his Class 12 board examinations this week to fight for his father's freedom. The brothers are not alone in this fight for justice. Today, everyone here is Kazmi.

Syed Zafar Mehdi is a journalist with the Hindustan Times in New Delhi.

Follow him on Twitter: @mehdizafar

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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