Lucknow: In what can be termed as a sigh of relief for journalists, the fourth pillar of democracy, an FIR was filed under Sections 323, 504, 506, 364, 392 and 342 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against four men in Khaki for beating up journalist Amit Sharma in Shamli district of Uttar Pradesh on the intervening night of Tuesday last, while freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia was released on bail.
Sharma was covering the derailment of a Delhi-bound goods train from Saharanpur whose three wagons derailed in Shamli district on Tuesday last. He was first pushed off from the tracks and the policemen tried to destroy his mobile phone when he was covering the event along with a few other reporters. He works for a national Hindi news channel, News 24. Sharma was then beaten up badly but the cops which included GRP SHO Shamli Rakesh Kumar. Kumar along with his colleagues started beating the scribe for no reasons and tried to tear down his clothes.
“There was no reason to beat me or enter into argument with me that night. I was simply doing my duty and making footage of the train derailment when all this started. I was taken to the police station where I was put in lockup. While in lockup, I was beaten by each and every policeman. They even pissed (urinated) on my face,” Sharma said, while narrating his ordeal. He further said that he was kept in the police station after being challaned under Section 34 of the Railways Act and for trespassing Railway property.
“My ordeal of being assaulted by policemen, insult and humiliation continued for about three hours. I want to thank every journalist of the country who stood with me either through physical presence or through social media,” he said.
Sharma told Newsclick that he suspects that this happened because he had exposed the ‘rackets’ being run at the behest of suspended SHO, Government Railway Police (GRP), Rakesh Kumar, a few days ago and also for refusing an alleged bribe from the railway police officer.
“I did a story last week on how an illegal vendor’s racket was being operated under the shelter of GRP from trains passing through Saharanpur, Baghpat and Shamli stations. The railway contractor, Nafis, has given a guarantee to the vendor that GRP will not stop them from selling stuff in the train without a proper license,” Sharma said, adding that he suspected that he was targeted for exposing this business model where an alleged police-railway contractor nexus was at work.
“After this news was aired on May 11 last, I was called by the same SHO, who beat me up. He said he wanted to talk to me in person and during the talks he offered me a bribe of Rs 50,000 per month for not covering any illegal racket being run with the help of railway police in Shamli. I refused this offer on his face and he did not like that. I even received some calls where people asked me to accept this offer and stop exposing them but I told them very clearly that I am not going to accept any kind of money as I earn enough honestly to earn my bread,” he claimed.
The journalist alleged, “I was targeted because of this only. The intention of the policemen was to either kill me or badly thrash me in a bid to stop me from exposing them. I am happy that my reporting and support from journalist friends helped in getting the accused cops suspended and also getting FIRs registered against them, but I would say that I have only reached half way and I want to see them all behind bars.”
Sharma said he considered himself lucky that he did not face situations like other journalists who were killed or badly injured in attacks for exposing crimes.
On the other side, freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia, was released by the jail authorities from Lucknow jail on Wednesday night.
Kanojia, however, refused to speak anything on his arrest and only said, “I believe in the Constitution of India. I will read the Supreme Court order copy and then speak to the media.”
Kanojia was picked up by the Uttar Pradesh police from his Delhi dwelling for a sarcastic tweet aimed at Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. The tweet, however, was in bad taste, as admitted by a lot of his former colleagues and close friends.
Citing the reason that his advocate had advised him to not speak with media in Lucknow, Kanojia did not say anything on his arrest but the Lucknow police, in its press statement, after his arrest has said that the accused had confessed to his crime.
Meanwhile, Kanojia’s close friend, Punit, informed Newsclick that he was made to clean the jail bathrooms and abuses were also hurled at him.
Veteran journalist Bibhuti Das says, “Both these incidents show an attack on press freedom. Although Prashant’s tweet was very bad in taste but arresting him was not required, and whatever happened in Shamli was very unfortunate and shameful. The police and other government officials should know that they are not above the law. I hope the government, which has faced a lot of embarrassment due to these incidents, will take strict action, at least in the Shamli incident.”
This is not the first time that journalists in Uttar Pradesh have faced the wrath of the government as earlier a Muslim scribe was picked up by the police and insulted for no reason under the same government. Also, there are reports of former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, in a packed press conference, insulting senior journalists for not writing news in his favour.
Activist P Singh believes that this is bound to happen when several media persons have ideological leanings towards the party in power.
“It is good to have ideological differences when you are a journalist, but people should have come together for their colleagues who were facing extreme unfair situations. I see that journalists are divided over these issues, which is wrong. If this continues, I foresee very bad times in future,” Singh says.