The AHRC condoles the death of Mr. Khurshid Anwar
The AHRC condoles the death of Mr. Khurshid Anwar, a writer and activist
reputed for his life-long struggle for upholding the rights and dignity of the downtrodden, not only in India but the whole subcontinent. Unable to cope with the mental torture of relentless social media trial over a case of an alleged rape which was never taken to the police or a court of law, Mr. Anwar committed suicide on December 18 by jumping off the roof of his apartment building.
The AHRC strongly condemns the media trials and social lynching which forced Mr. Anwar to take this extreme step. The trigger came from India TV, an electronic news channel, which aired a story on the evening of December 17 and declared Mr. Anwar guilty as if the channel were a court of law. The diatribes of Mr. Rajat Sharma, the anchor of the show, included assertions like "ham balatakari ko uske anzam tak pahuchayenge", i.e. "we will ensure that the rapist gets his dues." This media trial was in essence a media murder.
The AHRC firmly believes that every allegation of rape, or sexual assault, in fact, any crime, needs to be expeditiously investigated with due process of law. Sadly, in this instance, those alleging rape never went to the police or took any steps to bring the matter to a court of law. They chose, instead, to engage in a vicious social media campaign, forgetting that even an accused has a right to defend himself.
According to information received by the AHRC, the person who initially made the allegation of rape refused to go to any police station to make a complaint, even when several friends and human rights activists advised her that this was the proper thing to do if her allegations are true. This is even more notable given that the campaigners include many seasoned activists well aware of the due process of law, which gives both the complainant and the accused equal legal hearing pending inquiry.
Mr. Anwar was never given this chance. Those who kept repeating the allegations deliberately prevented him from being able to answer them. They did this by using the devious method of never referring to him by name. They only made insinuations by use of terms like "secular rapist".
The AHRC has learnt that Mr. Anwar sought legal redress as soon as he received complaints that were sent to the Board of Directors of the nongovernmental organization, Institute for Social Democracy, of which he was Executive Director. On November 29, 2013, Mr. Anwar filed a defamation suit against those running the campaign against him, and the case is to be heard soon.
The AHRC firmly advocates the right of victims to seek support by way of publicity. However, it is an equally important principle that allegations be made with due regard to fact and that opportunities be provided so the person accused may have the opportunity to respond with their version of events. Furthermore, it is also a fundamental obligation to make complaints to lawful authorities and to enable impartial inquiry so that the path is paved for the establishment of truth or falsehood of the allegations. Spreading false rumours and resorting to devious means to prevent individuals from responding to unsubstantiated allegations itself amounts to criminal blackmail.
India TV declaring Mr. Anwar a rapist without airing his version of events and before any complaint had been filed, forget about conviction by a court of law, is a failure of its fundamental obligations, and the concerned news channel must be held responsible for abetting Mr. Anwar's suicide. While this news channel had Anwar's denial recorded, they did not air it. This amounts to deliberate manipulation to propagate falsehood. India TV also did not once mention the defamation suit that Mr. Anwar had filed, despite having full knowledge of it. What India TV did was partake in blackmail. The term "media trial" is now being used as a euphemism for pure and simple blackmail.
Mr. Anwar's wish to have this matter submitted to a proper inquiry should be respected. It was his right to have the matter fully investigated by lawful authorities, which have all the technical equipment, including DNA mapping. If those making allegations do not cooperate with the investigations of lawful authorities, lawful action should follow. AHRC's demand is that either Mr. Anwar's culpability should be proved through proper legal channels, or his innocence should be vindicated.
We hope that those who engaged in the public campaign against Mr. Anwar without regard to his rights will at least now respect the rights of a dead man and his family and do what the law requires them to do. On the other hand, if they have been spreading falsehoods, it is now their duty, in the name of decency, to admit their wrongdoings and vindicate the name of an innocent man. The merits of the case must be left for the lawful authorities now. We urge the authorities to act in the manner law requires. Continuing the smear campaign even after his death, while at the same time preventing legal inquiries through lawful authorities, is criminal behavior.
It appears to the AHRC that the smear campaign is now being continued purely so rumours and falsehoods prior to Mr. Anwar's suicide can be justified, and not for any honourable reason. It appears that protection from expressions of public outrage is the motive now.
The AHRC offers its deepest condolences to family and friends of Mr. Anwar and hopes that the struggles and the principles he stood for are carried forward and that justice will be upheld through the workings of the rule of law.
The AHRC appeals to all activists and civil society organisations to come forward to express their demand for the observance of moral and ethical standards in all matters, including those relating to publicity. If blackmail were to take the place of public expression of concern, civil society and its activism will be irrevocable damaged. What is done one day to blackmail and destroy one activist can also be done the next day to others.