Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Dhu'l-Qa'dah / Zil-Hijjah 1423 H
February 2003
Volume 16-02 No : 194
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Reflections

Freedom at Midnight

Freedom at Midnight

For a journalist, who lived in a sea of news and information while working in the profession, getting attuned to a life in the prison was not easy!

By Iftikhar Gilani

Thanks to the political leadership of the country for restoring my honour and prestige by withdrawing the false criminal case slapped against me. For seven long months of incarceration in Central Jail No. 3 of Tihar in Delhi, my integrity, honesty and patriotism was agonised and bruised. Since September 11, a one band medium radio- a vintage broadcasting equipment of the Second World War era was my useful companion in the mundane environs of the slammer. For a journalist, who lived in a sea of news and information while working in the profession, getting attuned to a life of an inmate while remaining attached to his lifeline- the news and information- was not easy. Fate had it. For a journalist working with the latest communication media- the small, outdated medium, purchased in the jail itself, brought the cheerful news of my freedom. On the night of January 10, at the dinner time, BBC Urdu service broke the news. It was unbelievable- the government had decided to withdraw the case against me. My fellow inmates Arvind, Anil and Ahtisham almost fell on my lap with tears of joy in their eyes. I had to believe the news- yes the news I heard was correct-I was to be a free man soon.

The seven-month ordeal was an experience itself. One January 13, evening, when I stepped outside the high walls of the jail, tall and free, it was like a transition from the medieval period to the 21st century. Only in jail, one can think of the importance of individual freedom, with which we take liberties outside.

Till June 9, I was living a placid life with my family at my residence in Malviya Nagar. Almost till past midnight I was writing my weekly column for Pakistan’s prestigious weekly The Friday Times. Just after two-hours of sleep, in the wee hours,my wife Aanisa woke me up, saying someone was knocking at the door. Perplexed at being disturbed at this odd hour, I opened the door. Suddenly, two uniformed men with SLR rifles in their hands pushed me inside and covered me from both sides. With their guns pointed towards me, almost 10-15 people barged inside. An officer gently informed that they belonged to the Income Tax and had authority to raid my house. They ransacked and searched my three- bedroom apartment for the next 18-hours.

Quite surprisingly, it was at 7 p.m. when someone from the raiding party switched on the TV that we came to know that a so- called incriminating defence document has been found in my computer. I was shocked to see how the television networks were relaying the news. Some said I had run away from my residence and was absconding. Other networks referred to my wife as absconding. I was taken to the Lodhi Colony police station.

They treated me decently. Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials used to come during the day and interrogate me. My police remand was extended for some more days and finally I was shifted to Tihar, where I had to spend the next seven months.

I was booked under Section 3 and 9 of the Official Secrets Act of 1923 for possessing and passing on sensitive defence documents. In addition, I was also charged under Section 120 B of IPC for conspiring anti-India activities and murdering of senior Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone. The defence document was actually an article which I had downloaded from an internet site. It had appeared in a prestigious Pakistani strategic journal in 1996. More shocking were the nature of documents for which I was charged under Section 120 B. It was a press release detailing the human rights perpetrated by Pakistani forces abuses in Gilgit that is part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).

More so, an e-mail from my editor in January 2002 asking me to follow Abdul Gani Lone and Mohammad Yasin Malik to report their activities in Delhi was used to frame me in the killing of Mr. Lone. I am both happy and sad that a Military General heading the Military Intelligence (MI) had to appear in the Court, not once but twice to absolve me of the stigma of being a traitor. I am happy that Lt. General O. S. Lochab blew to shred the falsehood weaved around me. The moment I got off from the caged jail vehicle, there was an uproar just inside the outer gate. “He has come! There he is!” scores of voices rose. They were men in plain clothes, some convicts, some jail officials and some under-trials. And they attacked me. I was beaten badly. A senior inmate accused of triple murder ordered me to clean the toilet adjacent to the Jail Superintendent’s office. Obeying his orders, while looking for a cloth, he yelled to wash the dirty toilet with my shirt. Straight after admission formalities, I was led to a block where only convicts awaiting the death sentence and dreaded criminals are lodged. They call it “high risk”. Then, during a meeting with a jail officer, I pointed out that I had not done anything to be in that section. He knew about it, but feigning ignorance ordered his subordinates to shift me to ‘Mulahiza’ or ward no. 10 meant for first timers. Next two months, I spent days there sleepless on the rough prison floor.

The two visits every week from my wife would be the only ray of hope. She gave me courage. When I was arrested, I told her to return to Kashmir with the kids as I was not sure when I would be coming back. But she stayed put. With monetary support from my organisation, The Kashmir Times, which stood behind me and despite my incarceration sent my salary, she kept sending the children to school and fighting for my release.

After my charges were withdrawn in court on January 13, the news had reached to my ward through radio. I was accorded a hero’s welcome as I returned from court.

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