Two journalists covering the farmers’ protests at Singhu (on the Delhi-Haryana border) were detained Saturday night, for allegedly misbehaving with police personnel stationed there.
The journalists have been identified as Mandeep Punia and Dharmendra Singh, who was released after he signed an undertaking. Mr Punia was held overnight at the Samaypur Badli Police Station.
Mandeep Punia – a freelance journalist who contributes to the Caravan magazine – was presented before a magistrate at the Tihar Court Complex this morning, after being charged under multiple sections of the IPC, including those relating to the use criminal force on a public servant.
The detention of the journalists – coming a day after police in the national capital filed yet another case against journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and others – for comments on the Republic Day tractor rally violence – has triggered a furious outcry.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was among those to speak out; the Lok Sabha MP tweeted a video that apparently showed Mr Punia being taken away by a large group of policemen.
“Those who fear the truth arrest true journalists,” Mr Gandhi wrote in Hindi.
In a FIR (first information report) filed in Delhi on Saturday, the police said Mr Tharoor and the others misled people over the death of a protester in the ITO area. Other journalists named in that FIR are Mrinal Pande, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath and Vinod K Jose.
“…they posted fake, misleading and wrong information regarding unfortunate death of the tractor driver in accident to instigate violence amongst protestors,” the police said Saturday.
“They all tried to imply that the death of the farmer was caused by the violence committed by the Delhi Police under directions of the central government… Such insensitive statements are prejudicial to national integration in this sensitive situation. Such messages are forwarded several times causing false narrative and making citizenry ill-informed,” the police statement added.
Other FIRs filed against them include one in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida and four in Madhya Pradesh.
The Editors Guild of India has condemned cases against journalists covering the farmers’ protest.
“The journalists have been specifically targeted for reporting the accounts pertaining to the death of one of the protestors on their personal social media handles as well as those of the publications they lead and represent,” the Editors Guild statement said.
Journalists also gathered at the Press Club of India in Delhi on Saturday to protest against the FIRs.
“Today the atmosphere is such, it’s so poisonous, so toxic… Even during the Emergency, rules against journalists were not so harsh, I don’t recall anybody going in for sedition,” Anand Sahay, the Press Club of India chief, said, according to a report by news agency PTI.
Lakhs of farmers across India have spent the last several weeks demanding the centre repeal laws they say will leave them at the mercy of large corporate firms.
The tense situation exploded on Republic Day when groups of farmers and others clashed with police during a tractor rally that turned violent. Police had to resort to firing tear gas and lathi charges to control the situation. One farmer died and hundreds of cops were injured.
The farmers have alleged a conspiracy to derail their, until now, largely peaceful protests, and have blamed Punjabi actor Deep Sidhu of leading that conspiracy. Sidhu was named in a case, police sources told NDTV this week, as have a few farmer leaders.
So far, the police have filed 38 cases and arrested 84 people in connection with the clashes, news agency ANI reported.
With input from ANI, PTI