We condemn the racial-sectarian stereotyped profiling of S.M. Kazmi, an Indian journalist, by the Indian police and security agencies. We have reasons to believe that Mr. Kazmi was arrested because of his faith (Muslim), sect (Shia) and professional affiliation (correspondent of an Iranian news agency). Furthermore, his arrest seems to be an attempt by Indian government to appease the governments of Israel and the USA which are hell bent on implicating Iran in international acts of terrorism, while ignoring the fact that Iran itself is subject to ongoing terrorism, scores of its nuclear and other scientists have been killed by the US-Israel proxies in the last few years, hundreds of its soldiers and ordinary citizens have been killed in numerous attacks by Jihadi-sectarian outfit Jundullah which is supported by Israel.
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It was an old tactic used by Saddam Hussain (and also Kings and Emirs in other Arab countries) to declare their local Shia population as Iranians or Iranian agents thus to justify their oppression and suppress their resistance. “The demonisation of the Arab Shia wherever they live in the Arab world is not new. In modern times, this practice began by the ideologues of Arab nationalism who revised history and created a scapegoat for the failing of their ideology, having been supported by intolerant religious leaders. The symptoms of this folly then moved fast to the mostly semi-illiterate part of the Arab masses and finally found its way to the corridors of politics. The Shia were said to be responsible for the killing of the third caliph, Othman, the wars against the fourth caliph, Ali, the killing of Imam Hussein, the fall of the Umayyad state and the fall of Baghdad in the hands of the Mongols. Hence, Shiism came to be considered, as Ahmed Amin put it in his book Fajr Al-Islam, “a refuge for anyone who wanted to destroy Islam”. In the current times, this practice is on the rise. The accusation by Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak that the Shia “are mostly always loyal to Iran and not to the countries where they live” were preceded by statement of King Abdullah of Jordan alleging the rise of a “Shia Crescent” threatening the region as he perceived it. While the allegation of the Jordanian king was a novelty so absurd that even he did not stand by it, President Mubarak’s statement is more deep-rooted in the minds of many people who suffer from the Shia scare.”
Saddam Hussain, moments before his execution insulted Iraq’s Shia Muslims by terming that as Iranians. Bahrain’s Saudi-backed King Hamad and his ministers routinely reject and stereotype pro-democracy Shia Bahrainis as Iranian agents. Same goes for Saudi Arabia which routinely discriminates against and suppresses Shia Muslims in its Eastern and Southern provinces as Iranian proxies. When terrorists of Taliban / Sipah-e-Sahaba hit Shia individuals and gatherings in Pakistan, they do not distinguish between pro-Iran Shias and pro-liberal Shias.
The arrest of an Mr. Kazmi (an Indian Shia Muslims working for an Iranian news agency) shows that the racio-sectarian profiling of Shia Muslims has reached India.
On March 7, around 11.30 am, special cell of Delhi police picked Syed Mohammad Ahmed Kazmi, from outside India Islamic Cultural Centre, Delhi. At 9 am that morning, he had anchored a news bulletin for Doordarshan. On record, he was arrested at 8.30 pm. Later in the day, police confiscated his laptop, passport, driving license and car from his house in Jorbarh, South Delhi, where Kazmi resided with his wife and two sons. By next morning, Kazmi had become news. Police declared him as an accused in the February 13 bomb blast case in which the wife of Israeli Defense Attache was injured.
Syed Mohammad Ahmed Kazmi hails from Meerut district, Uttar Pradesh. He began his journalism career in 1983 with Delhi office of Iran Republic News Agency (IRNA), Iran’s national broadcaster, as a news operator. His command over Arabic and Persian languages helped him translate and interpret news emanating from Gulf countries. Kazmi developed an interest in West Asia, particularly Iraq, Iran and Israel. Seven years into service, he started Media Star, a news agency which would give news features on West Asia. In 1993, he joined Doordarshan as a news anchor and became a familiar face for those who used to watch Urdu news bulletins on DD News. Kazmi reported America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 for Doordarshan. For the next two years, he was part of the team which produced ‘World View India’- a weekly foreign affairs show on Doordarshan. “He had fantastic insight on the region and the reason was his impeccable contacts and network,” said senior journalist Saeed Naqvi, who co-produced the weekly who with Kazmi and has traveled with him on various foreign assignments.
It was Kazmi’s network in Iran, which, according to the police, worked against him. On Wednesday, special cell of Delhi police obtained open warrants against three Irani nationals.
On Friday, eleven days after Kazmi’s arrest, Delhi police briefed the press on the issue for the first time. Delhi police commissioner B K Gupta said that during his interrogation, Kazmi has confessed to having helped the Iran nationals in conducting recce of Israel embassy. “He also disclosed that at the insistence of Syed Ali Sadr Mehndi, a person of Iranian origin, he was introduced to Houshan Afshar and he along with an Irani recced the area around the Israel Embassy. They used a scooty for this recce, which was procured by Houshan Afshar. During this recce they decided to target Israeli diplomats,” Gupta said.
“We don’t know any such person. My father is a journalist and he meets hundreds of people. If some of them are found indulging in such activities, does it mean that he was aiding them?” Kazmi’s elder son, Shauzab told Firstpost. Someone who was covering West Asia for almost two decades is bound to have contacts in the region including Iran. Was there something more to it?
When Kazmi’s family moved court asking for evidence/material which lead to his arrest, they were denied the same.
US-Israel pressure and the convenient scapegoat
Going by the timing of his arrest, many journalists and human rights activists said that Kazmi was made a scapegoat as India was under tremendous pressure from Israel to make some arrests in the bomb blast case. “He was a Muslim and has been maintaining a pro- Iran stand. He was a suitable person in this case,” said S K Pande, president, Delhi union of journalists, which has started a campaign to release Kazmi. DUJ has sent memorandums to state chief minister and police commissioner demanding Kazmi’s immediate release on bail.
In my column after the attack on an Israeli diplomat, I had feared stereotyped profiling and rounding up of people under draconian laws by our security agencies. And I had warned that our agencies should avoid the trap of regarding opposition to western and Israeli policies in West Asia as militant jehadism. In the arrest of S.M. Kazmi and harassment of John Cherian by the Delhi police, my fears now knock menacingly on the door of the same ‘freedom of the press’ behind which I so often seek shelter, a seemingly fragile privilege, though the aam aadmi, whose rights are trampled upon everyday, has no access to even that. I hate to read conspiracy theories in tea leaves, yet I’m forced to note that both Kazmi and Cherian are journalists with outspoken anti-Israeli, pro-Iranian views. The hand-out for the police visit at Cherian’s house, that the police had acted on a hoax tipoff, makes the visit look ridiculous. But we can only guess how intimidating it must have been for him. More serious, prima facie, is the persecution of Kazmi. Silence on a few vital questions makes the security agencies suspect.
Is there credible evidence against Kazmi, like a legally obtained, incriminating phone intercept? Or does the case stand on a few calls from a journalist to his contacts after a major incident, or a so-called intercept produced by a foreign (Israeli or western) agency? Are there credible witnesses of Kazmi deliberately sheltering any Iranian, or conducting a ‘reconnaissance’ of the Israeli embassy (all journalists on the foreign beat are supposed to know its layout), or any remote terror link? If so, how did the Union home ministry, which controls Delhi police’s special cell that arrested Kazmi, grant him his security clearance for PIB accreditation? And why use a draconian law like the UAPA, which makes bail difficult and treats confession before the police (fabricated or forcibly extracted, who knows) as valid evidence? http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280246
Kazmi’s pro-Iran stand was not denied even by his family. It was visible in his commentary. On the night of February 15, two days after the sticker bomb explosion, Kazmi took part in a televised discussion on NDTV on ‘Iran’s nuclear capabilities and its possible repercussions’. When asked if there was a possibility of Iran using nuclear technology for war, Kazmi said the country’s Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomenei had issued a fatwa against war and Iran would never defy his call. On the ground reality of Shia- Sunni conflict in Iran, he said, “America has been talking about the Shia-Sunni divide, but tactically there is no such clash. It followed the same strategy in Iraq where 40 percent of marriages were happening between Shia and Sunni communities.” He added that the West was trying to create an image of Iran as a country which was a threat to the region.
Kazmi’s family, meanwhile, has alleged that the police is torturing the journalist, who is in 20 days police custody. They have moved court demanding a fair trail to Kazmi where they can monitor his medical condition on a regular basis. “They are forcing him to confess,” said Shauzab.
Stereotyped profiling and rounding up of innocent Muslims by the police and security agencies, even in terror activities later found to have been committed by Hindu right-wing extremists, was one of the factors that cost the Congress Muslim votes in UP. Trying to protect his pet foreign collaboration, PM Manmohan Singh outshone the Sangh parivar in trying to stoke xenophobia against the popular anti-nuclear agitation in Koodankulam. Now, under his home minister Chidambaram’s charge, the bar—of racial profiling (Shia working for an Iranian news agency: screams an Israeli news website report on Kazmi), arrest on suspicion, muzzling of dissent—is lowered with an aim to intimidate journalists. Since the Anna agitation, many Union ministers have dreamt of a tamer media. Censorship during the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi’s failed Defamation Bill—attempts to impose a quietus on the media or public dissent have always cost the Congress dear. Esquires Manmohan and Chidambaram should take careful note.
ON 13 FEBRUARY, Syed Ahmed Kazmi was sitting in television news studios as an expert on Iran soon after the bombing of the car carrying the Israel Defence Attaché’s wife in New Delhi. Kazmi, who had widely reported on West Asia, fearlessly spoke his mind, rubbishing Israel’s claim that the attack was masterminded by Iran.
A month later, the 53-year-old Urdu journalist is in police custody, accused of being part of the conspiracy to carry out the bombing. Investigators believe that an Iran-based radical group hatched the conspiracy and Kazmi provided them local assistance. While the Delhi Police admit the real culprits have fled India, their claim that Kazmi is a crucial link has raised serious questions on the manner in which the probe is being carried out.
After scrutinising court documents and speaking to Kazmi’s family, colleagues and even some officials, TEHELKA has found that there is little evidence to implicate him. The arrest appears to be a knee-jerk reaction since the matter has far-reaching diplomatic consequences. It has also shocked the media fraternity, who believe that Kazmi’s arrest for having been in touch with Iranians sets a bad precedent as speaking to all kinds of people in society is part of journalism.
Senior journalist Seema Mustafa, who was recently part of the delegation that travelled to Syria along with Kazmi, questions the government’s intentions. “Kazmi has taken positions on Israel. Soon after the blast, Israel said Iran was behind it. But the Indian government said Israel is wrong. So when did that position change? At what time did they decide Iran is involved?” she asks. “And just because Kazmi is the best-known face in India with an Iran connection, he was picked up.”
The police’s claim of Kazmi being part of the conspiracy is on the basis of his call records that indicate he was in touch with some ‘suspicious’ people from Iran. The police claim that certain seizures made from his home are also crucial. These include a TVS Scooty and a Maruti Alto allegedly used for the reconnaissance. The police allege that the Scooty was used by the bombers for recce and then dumped at Kazmi’s house in BK Dutt Colony, near the upmarket Jor Bagh in south Delhi.
However, Kazmi’s family claims that the Scooty has been parked at their house for the past two years, unused. “The Scooty belongs to my uncle who lives in Meerut. He bought it when he was in Delhi a couple of years ago for treatment at AIIMS. Since then, it has never been used,” says Kazmi’s elder son Shauzab, 23, an MBA graduate.
“It appears there is no strong evidence against Kazmi till now. Why would anyone continue to keep a motorbike that was used in a terror recce? It’s a far-fetched theory,” asks defence counsel ND Pancholi.
According to the remand application filed by the Delhi Police, Kazmi was in touch with the bombers prior to the attack and his questioning is crucial in order to unravel the larger conspiracy. The police stated in court that the bombers were from another country and in all probability have fled India but Kazmi could be vital in providing further leads. Although the police have not named any country, sources say the bombers were from Iran. According to investigators, Kazmi helped them carry out a recce of the target area.
BUT PANCHOLI is sceptical about the Special Cell probing a case that has international ramifications. “It is claimed by the Special Cell that a big international terror network can be busted through Kazmi. If that is true, the case should be handed over to the NIA or the CBI. The Special Cell is known for fabricating evidence,” he says.