ITANAGAR, Mar 7: On learning that the material evidence and case records of the 2012 attack on The Arunachal Times’ deputy editor Tongam Rina have been reported untraceable, the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) termed it an “unacceptable procedural lapse on the part of the law enforcement system” and sought immediate rectification for the case to be investigated and heard without further delay.
“The continued delay in delivery of justice exacerbates the frustration and agony of the journalist who sustained painful and crippling physical injuries, as well as psychological distress, as a result of the attempt to assassinate her,” the NWMI said.
Taking a shot at the law enforcement system in India, it said, “This is a huge blow to hopes for justice from the Indian law enforcement system. These attacks were not just violent crimes but represent a deliberate attempt to silence a journalist as well as a media organization for doing their duty to report the news.
“Without the records and material evidence, the case, which involves the fundamental right to freedom of expression and its corollary, media freedom, continues to hang fire,” it said.
Demanding justice for Tongam and The Arunachal Times, the NWMI said that “failure to do so will send out a disturbing message that attempts to secure justice can be thwarted by various means, including such procedural lapses. This will also reinforce impunity for perpetrators of violence against journalists and undermine citizens’ confidence in justice delivery mechanisms.”
On 15 July, 2012, masked gunmen shot at Tongam just outside the newspaper’s office. Nearly eight years after the incident, the files containing the case records are reportedly still in the Gauhati high court. They had been sent to the principal bench of the HC on 25 July, 2014, reportedly for some other case, and are yet to be returned.
With proceedings thereby delayed, Tongam is yet to give her statement to the court in Itanagar.
Meanwhile, the alleged perpetrators of the crime, identified, questioned and even charge-sheeted by the police after a year, were subsequently let off.
The CCTV footage pertaining to The Arunachal Times assault case, which took place on 15 April, 2012, is also reportedly untraceable from the court.
Court officials said that there is no entry in the court records about the CCTV footage, on claims that the case had been registered before the bifurcation of the judiciary from the executive, and therefore it is likely that there is no entry in the court records. The damaged computers are missing from the custody of the police in Itanagar.
IJU condemns deliberate inaction
The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has joined its affiliate, the Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, in condemning “the shocking apathy by the authorities in Arunachal in getting justice for senior journalist Tongam Rina and The Arunachal Times in cases filed by them eight years ago against vandalism and attempt to murder.”
“The state police particularly should be made answerable and ordered to comply with the court’s directive of placing evidence without any further delay,” the IJU said in a statement it issued on Saturday.
It said though Tongam survived the murderous assault, she has had to battle with the police authorities to place and record the evidence.
“Worse, crucial evidence has gone missing from the Itanagar police station’s evidence room,” it said.
IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit said the disappearance of the evidence “reveals that the police is trying to protect the culprits, rather than doing its duty honestly to assist the victims and ensure they get justice.”
The union said it is a travesty of justice that the cases are pending in various courts for these past eight years without any kind of hearing, due to evidence not being placed.
Drawing attention to the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, observed every year on 2 November, the IJU said the Arunachal government must act and forcefully to ensure that these cases are brought to their logical conclusion.
“Further attempts to dilute the cases will be viewed as an attempt to stifle the voice of journalists and media to carry out their rightful duties and be responsible to the society,” the IJU said.
“The authorities must remember that justice delayed is justice denied, and that IJU expresses solidarity with its colleagues to ensure that this case does not get the tag of ‘impunity’,” it said.