By Ashraf Padanna/Thiruvananthapuram
A local court in Karnataka has granted bail to K K Shahina, an assistant editor at the weekly magazine OPEN, facing charges of interfering in the 2008 Bangalore blasts trial.
Shahina, who exposed Karnataka police’s alleged attempts to fabricate prosecution witnesses against jailed cleric-turned-politician Abdunnasar Ma’dani, is facing various charges under Indian law, including criminal conspiracy and intimidation of witnesses to commit a crime.
Shahina’s journalist husband Rajeev Ramachandran said a group of pro-government Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Hindu Jagran Vedike workers tried to prevent her from obtaining bail by intimidating local residents whom she produced as sureties.
“At the court premises itself, they unleashed terror. They threatened to ostracise one of the sureties, Ravi, and slap false cases once he returns to his village. They also didn’t spare those who accompanied Shahina from here,” he said. “Anyway, she’s got bail and she’s on her way home”.
The right wing activists had attacked her vehicle and verbally abused her last time too despite police protection, he said.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) had last month urged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state to drop cases against her and expressed “extreme concern” over the move to prosecute Shahina.
The charge-sheets filed in two separate courts in Coorg district also indicts her under Sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is most commonly invoked to deal with terrorist offences.
These charges stem from a story published under her byline in another weekly magazine, Tehelka, in which the witnesses said their statements were fabricated by the police.
Shahina’s story cited almost all key witnesses in the conspiracy charges against Ma’dani as saying their testimonies were misinterpreted or distorted in making out the charges. Her interviews were recorded and the video posted on the magazine’s website.
One of the witnesses whom Shahina interviewed, BJP worker Yogananda, later complained to the police that he made the statement under duress.
Facing the possibility of arrest since January 2011, Shahina approached the district court in Coorg for anticipatory bail, but was turned down. It was only in July 2011 that the Karnataka High Court granted her provisional immunity from arrest.
Ramachandran said the First Class Judicial Magistrate in Somawarpet has posted the case for March 30 while the Sessions Court in Mercara will take up the case on Tuesday. Shahina will now have to travel from Kochi to Coorg for every hearing in the trial courts.
In March 2011, Shahina was honoured with the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding woman media person.
The awards citation mentioned her investigative work in defence of civil liberties, among other contributions.
Ma’dani, who was acquitted in 2008 after spending nearly a decade in Tamil Nadu jails as an under-trial in the 1998 Coimbatore serial blasts, has been an ally of the opposition Left Democratic Front (LDF) until his arrest on August 17, 2010, in connection with the 2008 Bangalore blasts in which one woman was killed.
The Karnataka police registered a case against Ma’dani following the arrest of Thadiyantavide Nazir, an activist of the now-defunct Islamic Sevak Sangh, which Madani headed before he dissolved it to float the PDP.
Ma’dani claims he was framed and at least two of the prosecution witnesses have since denied giving statements against him. They said they were forced to sign documents written in Kannada which they could not read or write.
However, the police in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled state asserts that it has gathered strong evidences against Ma’dani and the law would take its course. The Supreme Court also rejected his bail plea last year.
Ma’dani has reportedly turned blind in one eye and lost 80% vision in the other.