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Sohrabuddin encounter trial: CBI court orders media gag, can attend but not report

A special CBI court in Mumbai has ordered that the media will not be allowed to report on daily proceedings in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh alleged fake encounter case trial that is being held in Mumbai after it was moved out of Gujarat by the Supreme Court.

In the order, Additional Sessions Judge SJ Sharma said, "It may happen that the publication may create security problem for the accused persons, prosecution witnesses, the defence team and the prosecutor as well. I therefore, find justification in the request of the defence team of lawyers. The application is allowed."

The court passed the order after an application by the defence counsel to ban day-to-day coverage of proceedings in the case. The court also referred to the defence arguments related to the death of Judge Brij Gopal Loya which has recently been reported on after family members raised questions about the circumstances under which he died. A sitting judge of the Bombay High Court has said there was nothing suspicious in Judge Brij Gopal Loya's death. Justice Bhushan R Gavai had told NDTV, "I was informed of the death at about 6:30 am and rushed to the hospital" (by then, Judge Loya had been moved to a larger hospital from the one where he was initially taken).

"Justice Mohit Shah was also informed and he too reached," Justice Gavai told NDTV. "I saw his body in the ICU where the doctors had tried to resuscitate him. There was no blood on his clothes and I did not see any foul play," he had said.

The court took note of the defence arguments and said, "By making reference of the sensational trial of Malegaon riots of 2008, wherein the court under its discretion ban media, an attempt of killing senior lawyers who were the member of defence team in sensational matter appeared in Mumbai and the past history of discharge of 15 accused of this matter, publication by media and publication through press and electronic and social media about the death of judge working on this case, by giving such natural death the colour of killing him, there is apprehension in the mind of defence team, the accused persons facing trial and prosecution witnesses about the happening of any untoward incident with them. Consequently the request to ban publication of day to day proceedings by media is prayed for."

Judge Loya's death in December 2014 has been recently described as unnatural by his family in an interview to news magazine The Caravan. The accusations have provoked calls for an independent inquiry not just by politicians but by prominent judicial voices. The 48-year-old judge was hearing the CBI's case of murder against BJP chief Amit Shah when he travelled for a wedding to Nagpur where he died of a cardiac arrest. Mr Shah was later discharged in the case.

Along with Mr Shah, 15 of the 38 accused have already been discharged, including former Gujarat police officer DG Vanzara and Rajasthan police officer MN Dinesh, who were discharged citing insufficient evidence. Among those discharged in the case so far are police officer Abhay Chudasama, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulabchand Kataria, former Gujarat police chief PC Pande and senior police officer Geeta Johri.

Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a petty criminal, was killed near Gujarat's Gandhinagar area in November 2005 along with his wife Kauser Bi.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which later took over the case, said Sohrabuddin and his wife were abducted while on their way from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra. The Gujarat Anti-Terror Squad, which allegedly kidnapped them, claimed they were terrorists plotting to kill Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time.

Tulsiram Prajapati, who was accompanying the couple and became a witness to the crime, was killed a year later. Both the cases have been clubbed together and in 2012 the case was moved from Gujarat to Maharashtra after the CBI's request for a fair trial.