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21 February 2017 Editorial

 

21 FEBRUARY 2017

Guilty until…

UPDATED: FEBRUARY 21, 2017 01:00 IST

A Delhi court’s acquittal of two persons accused of involvement in the 2005 serial blasts in the city, thereby bringing an end to their long incarceration, brings to light another instance of unconscionable miscarriage of justice in this country. Additional Sessions Judge Reetesh Singh acquitted the two men — Mohammad Hussain Fazli and Mohammad Rafiq Shah — of all charges, while saying it found no evidence to link the third accused, Tariq Ahmed Dar, to the blasts, though it convicted him for being a member of a terrorist organisation. At one level, the judgment is a reassuring affirmation of the independence at the lower rungs of the Indian judiciary. But it must invite, visibly, a response from the state to inquire into and address the processes that keep investigating agencies and prosecutors so determinedly on false trails. The frightening monotony with which Indian agencies have been failing to professionally investigate terrorism cases, and are accused of framing innocents, should jolt the system. The court said the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove its case regarding who carried out the October 29, 2005 bomb blasts, that killed 67 and injured more than 200 people. It noted that the prosecution failed to establish a link between Dar and the other two Kashmiris accused. The explosions, in a bazaar outside the New Delhi railway station, in a bus, and in the Sarojini Nagar market, came just before Deepavali.

This is not the first time that investigation into a terror case has fallen flat in a court of law; nor is it the only instance of the Indian security agencies being accused of framing innocents. The judgment is a telling commentary on India’s faulty counter-terror posture, one that demands a holistic overhaul. There is a long list of terror attacks in which the security establishment failed to carry out a scientific probe and ended up framing innocent persons. The Malegaon blast of 2006, the attack on Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad in 2007, the Samjhauta Express attack of 2007 have all seen the investigating agencies flailing to find the guilty. Such incompetence has grave implications for India’s preparedness to avert terrorist strikes. It is from credible clues gathered during investigations into an attack that agencies pick up the trail to active terror groups, sleeper cells, and so on. Moreover, this incompetence often swallows the lives of innocent persons. In this case, Mohammad Rafiq Shah was just another college student in Srinagar when he was detained in 2005, while Mohammad Hussain Fazli was a struggling carpet-maker. It is difficult to imagine what could be done to compensate them for their long, unjust incarceration. Or to begin to get to the bottom of the terror attack that took 67 lives. A reform of the investigation processes should, however, frame the state’s response to the verdict.

 

Seoul-searching

As the heir to the Samsung empire finds himself in the midst of a storm, South Koreans are bracing themselves for another high-profile controversy, this time involving the country’s largest conglomerate. Friday’s arrest of Lee Jae-yong is in connection with the same influence-peddling controversy where Parliament voted overwhelmingly in December 2016 to impeach the country’s first woman President, Park Geun-hye. The constitutional court has another few months to dispose of the impeachment petition over a scandal that saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets towards the end of 2016. South Korea has barely recovered from the blow from the recall of Samsung’s fire-prone Galaxy Note 7. The company is one of the country’s largest, and its fortunes have a direct bearing on the national economy. Prosecutors now accuse Mr. Lee of paying about $37 million to organisations run by the President’s close confidante. In return, it is alleged, Samsung secured government support to clinch a questionable merger of two affiliates in the conglomerate. Mr. Lee’s recent arrest follows new evidence presented on the disputed contributions. Last month, a pre-trial warrant sought by the prosecution was rejected, as the court saw little ground for his detention in the absence of sufficient evidence to substantiate the bribery charge. While Mr. Lee has admitted to making the grants, he denies any accusations of bribery.

The overall stakes in the prospects of Samsung could not be greater, given that the entity is one of the country’s largest employers; its revenues amount to a substantial chunk of South Korea’s gross domestic product. The impact of the current development would also be of some concern given the global climate of uncertainty from protectionism. At the same time, legal proceedings under way involving some of South Korea’s electronics giants are evidence of the unhealthy nexus between corporations and officialdom coming under systematic scrutiny. This is a reassuring sign for the long-term image of any brand, as well as for South Korean politics and governance. The notion that giant firms that contribute to economic growth and overall prosperity are too big to fail, or be prosecuted, is said to influence the large number of pardons granted in South Korea. Several top captains of industry have been let off, at times even without serving jail terms. The fallacy of carrying that logic to an extreme seems to be giving way to a recognition of the need for transparency and democratic accountability in the governance culture of firms, something South Korea has struggled to achieve over the years. In its absence, mitigating economic and social inequalities would merely remain empty objectives. Citizens of one of Asia’s largest economies deserve a better deal, as they themselves made clear through recent rounds of protest. It is time for some serious introspection in Seoul.

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