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Indian journalist's interview with 'terrorist' sparks controversy

The limits of media freedom are being debated in India after a freelance journalist interviewed one of India's most wanted terrorists in Pakistan.

NEW DELHI: How far should a journalist go when chasing a story?

The limits of media freedom are being debated in India after a freelance journalist interviewed one of India's most wanted terrorists in Pakistan.

The photo tweeted by Indian journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik of his meeting in Lahore with one of India's most wanted terrorists, Hafiz Saeed, sparked much debate in India.

India blames Pakistani Saeed for masterminding the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks which killed more than 160 people.

Saeed heads Jama'at-ud-Da'wah and has links to Lashkar e-Toiba -- organisations banned by India, the US and the UK, among other countries.

But in Pakistan, Saeed's movements are not restricted, and he is free to meet anyone he wishes.

Thus he met with freelance journalist Vaidik, who had earlier been touring Pakistan along with a group of Indian journalists and politicians, who had been invited by a peace research institute.

Mr Vaidik said: "The biggest objective of my interview was to know about the person who committed such a big massacre. What sort of a person is he? What does he think? What is the reason behind it? What is his inspiration? What are his capabilities? What is his willpower? What is his conduct?"

Mr Vaidik claims that the meeting was a personal journalistic assignment, similar to ones he did in the past with foreign and domestic armed rebels.

But questions were raised in India about the appropriateness of the meeting with a man designated as a foreign terrorist.

Parliament was stalled for a day as the opposition demanded to know whether Mr Vaidik was on a government mission.

Manish Tewari, Congress spokesperson, said: "The fundamental question is not Mr Vaidik, but whether he had the blessings, patronage, nod, prodding of the current dispensation. The fact is that no ordinary Indian is able to get access to Hafiz Saeed."

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has denied any links to Mr Vaidik or the meeting.

Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said: "It's a private affair. The government has nothing to do with it. He was neither authorised nor representing the government or the party. We have nothing to do with the meeting. This country is a free country. People are going to different places."

But many reject the explanations. A petition has been filed by a Congress party worker, charging Mr Vaidik of abetment to mutiny and sedition.

The sedition charge relates to interviews Mr Vaidik gave to Pakistani media in which he advocated freedom to Kashmir. Mr Vaidik claims that he did not mean freedom was secession from India, but that Kashmiris should have the same rights as other Indians.

With sensitivities running high when it comes to reporting on India-Pakistan issues, Mr Vaidik has not only courted controversy this time, but also opened the debate on where the lines of media freedom should be drawn.  

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