Uttar Pradesh has booked, arrested and assaulted eight media persons during the lockdown. Around the country, 18 others are facing legal trouble
Journalists are being booked under IPC Section 188, which criminalises disobeying a public servant’s order, and Section 505(1)(b), which punishes causing fear and alarm to the public “whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state”. Punitive sections of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 have been invoked as well.
Newslaundry details every reported incident of a journalist facing trouble for doing their job since the lockdown began. Here it is:
Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, Jerald Aruldas, M Balaji
Pandian is the founder and chief executive of SimpliCity. Aruldas is a reporter and Balaji a photographer with the news website based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Pandian was arrested on April 23 after the website reported on the challenges faced by healthcare workers battling the Coronavirus outbreak as well as corruption at a Public Distribution System outlet. He was booked under sections of the IPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act. Pandian was granted bail by a local court after executing a bond for Rs 10,000. Aruldas and Balaji were detained for close to 10 hours at a local police station.
A cameraman with Sun News, he was arrested from Tamil Nadu’s Minjur town after he shot staff at a Primary Health Centre handing out medicines to patients without a doctor’s prescription. He was labelled a ‘fake journalist’, and arrested by the police on 7 April. Damodharan spent 10 days in the police station, where he claims he was physically assaulted. Charges of cheating, forgery, and preventing a public servant from discharging his duty were levelled against him. He is currently out on bail.
A reporter with the TV channel News1 India based in Lucknow, Pandey was interrogated by UP Police’s Special Task Force on 1 May after reporting on a letter circulated within the state administration discussing poor quality PPEs being supplied to hospitals and medical colleges.
Subhas Rai and Vijay Vineet
Rai is the editor of Jansandesh Times and Vineet a reporter. On 26 March, they were served a showcause notice by the district magistrate of Varanasi, where the Hindi daily is based, for reporting on villagers from the Musahar community being forced to eat grass to survive the lockdown. The administration claimed that the report was ‘fabricated’ and threatened legal action against the daily.
Four journalists from IANS and Business Insider
IANS is a news agency and the Business Insider is a news website under the Times Group. On April 13, the Bhadohi police in Uttar Pradesh lodged an FIR against two editors and two reporters at these outlets for reporting that a local woman had thrown her five children into a river because of lockdown-induced hunger. The police claimed the woman had done so after quarrelling with her husband. The story was published by IANS, and it was picked up by the Business Insider. The FIR only mentioned an “editor” and a “reporter” from each outlet, without naming them. No journalist from either organisation has been approached by the police so far. The four journalists have been booked under Sections 505(1)(b) and 188 of the IPC.
A journalist based out of Bihar’s Jamalpur, Chaudhary was arrested by the local police on 6 April for allegedly spreading misinformation about a death caused by Covid-19 in the city. He was sent to a jail in Munger.
The Srinagar correspondent for the Hindu newspaper had reported on the burial of two slain militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla, but the police alleged his report was “factually incorrect”. Two FIRs were lodged against Ashiq, one in Srinagar and the other in Anantnag, and he was questioned by the police on April 19.
The Kashmiri photojournalist was booked under the UAPA on April 20 for old social media posts that were deemed “anti-national” and motivated by “criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offence against public tranquillity” by the police. She was summoned to the Cyber Police station in Srinagar and questioned.
The Kashmiri journalist and author was booked under the UAPA as well as Section 505 of the IPC on April 21. The FIR lodged against Geelani at Srinagar’s Cyber police station accused him of “glorifying terrorism in Kashmir Valley” through social media posts.
A journalist with the English daily Kashmir Observer, based in Srinagar, Mushtaq was allegedly assaulted by Muneeb-ul-Islam, a Station House Officer in Sumbal, while he was on his way to report on the lockdown in Bandipore on April 11. Mushtaq claimed Islam slapped him multiple times and booked him under IPC sections. He remained in custody for two nights.
Two FIRs were filed against the founding editor of the Wire on 1 April for purportedly “disseminating fake news”. A story in the news website had misquoted Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, but it had been corrected with a note before 1 April. Varadarajan, who had tweeted and then corrected the quote on Twitter, was booked under Section 66D of the Information Technology Act which punishes “cheating by personation by using computer resource” and Section 188 of the IPC, among other provisions. On 10 April, the Ayodhya police visited his Delhi home to serve him a notice.
More than 100 FIRs were filed against the editor and CEO of Republic TV and Republic Bharat news channels on 22-24 April after his shows on the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra. The Supreme Court gave him protection from arrest for three weeks. On 2 May, another FIR was filed against him in Mumbai for creating “communal disturbance” through his segment on the Bandra lockdown violation of 29 April. On 6 May, Goswami again moved the apex court against this FIR.
A freelance journalist based in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Zubair was arrested because of a tweet questioning the local administration’s quarantine policies. He was charged under several sections of the IPC as well as the Disaster Management Act.
Shivhare, who runs the news website Bastar Ki Aawaz in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, was served a showcause notice for reporting on the plight of a woman who had to sell her fridge to buy food rations. The notice denounced his reporting as “a punishable offence” and threatened him with an FIR. He was summoned by the local authorities.
An ABP News reporter based in Maharashtra’s Osmanabad was arrested by the Mumbai police for allegedly reporting that some trains had “restarted” on 14 April, which purportedly prompted the lockdown violation in Bandra that day. Kulkarni claimed his report was based on a circular issued by the railways ministry. He was booked under sections of the IPC as well as the Epidemic Diseases Act, and is currently out on bail.
Ashwani Saini and Jasveer Thakur
Saini is a multimedia journalist based in Himachal Pradesh. An FIR was registered against him in Mandi, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s home district, for publishing ‘fake’ news about migrant labourers not getting rations. He has been booked under sections of the IPC and the Disaster Management Act. On 16 April, Saini, along with another journalist named Jasveer Thakur, was slapped with three FIRs for reporting on lockdown violations at brick kilns in Mandi district. The police said Saini and Thakur were booked for trespassing and misbehaving with the labourers, based on complaints lodged by the brick kiln owners. The FIRs were filed under sections of the IPC and the Disaster Management Act.
A reporter with Hindi daily Divya Himachal, he was booked under Sections 336, 182, 188 and 269 of the IPC and Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act on March 29 for reporting on the lack of ration supply to the homeless in Solan district’s Baddi tehsil. The local police targeted a Facebook live he recorded and claimed it was false.