The case against Dr. Haneef has finally ended. He is back home in the safe haven of his home country. Nobody can throw him in prison for being present illegally. But, during my three-day stay in Bangalore, I noticed something about the way the media has handled the case. My case against the media is restricted to the editorial line taken by the Times of India, one of the oldest and most respected newspapers in India. In its editorial titled “The Haneef Case”, dated 28 July 2007, the TOI says, “When the Australian authorities realised they had made an error of judgment, they acted upon it. Which is not something investigating agencies in India always do. Police here have the dubious record of detaining suspects without charge for much longer than the 90-day limit….” It does not stop there. It goes on to claim that, “yes, if Haneef is not guilty, his visa must be reinstated by Australia and he must be allowed to return to India with honour. But before we cry foul the next time an Indian is detained abroad, we could soberly reflect upon our civil liberties record at home and put in perspective any perception of unjust prosecution elsewhere.” I find this attitude both shocking and irresponsible especially since it appears in a serious and respected newspaper like the TOI.
If one were to accept the argument of the TOI, does the Indian government reserve the right to torture, kill or maim a Sudanese citizen on the grounds that the Sudanese government itself does not respect human rights? In Haneef’s case, does the fact that the Indian government does not have the moral right to demand fair treatment given its own civil liberties record justify the actions of the Australian Federal Police? I should think not. Human rights are universal. No matter what is done in India, no matter how bad our justice system, and no matter how flawed the actions of our police, I believe that all human beings deserve to be treated fairly and justly. If an Indian citizen suffers at the hands of a foreign government, it is perfectly normal that the Indian government mount pressure to obtain a free trial. That is exactly what the Government of India has done in the Haneef case. A newspaper as respected as the Times of India asking us to examine our own record before demanding justice for a citizen arrested abroad is unacceptable. To me, it is irresponsible journalism.