UP: ‘We Were Treated Like Criminals’, Say 3 Journalists Who got Bail After a Month in Jail
Lucknow: Three journalists, who were arrested in Balia district of Uttar Pradesh under multiple sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC), after they reported the leak of Class 12 English examination paper and were alleged to have played a role in the leak, were released on bail Wednesday after spending over a month in jail.
A local court has granted bail to three journalists, after police failed to produce any evidence of their involvement in the paper leak. Police have also withdrawn the Section for cheating (420) against all three due to lack of evidence.
Advocate Akhilendra Chaubey, who represented the journalists in the court, said: "The District Court gave Ajit Ojha bail on Monday. The other two journalists were given bail on Friday by the court of Judicial Magistrate."
Kumar said: “The police had to withdraw IPC Section 420 (cheating) against Ojha as they have not yet been able to specify their role in the paper leak. The police had also invoked all sections of IPC against the journalists in a wrongful manner, and to save themselves.”
The district court had found that offences like cheating are not made out against the accused. The court expressed immense disgust while coming down heavily on UP Police for using additional IPC Sections as a tool for keeping the journalists in jail.
The three journalists -- Ajit Ojha and Digvijay Singh, who work with the Hindi daily Amar Ujala, and Manoj Gupta, who works with another Hindi newspaper Rashtriya Sahara -- were arrested for their alleged role in the leak of the Class 12 English question paper of the Uttar Pradesh Board in March this year.
Read Also:UP Question Paper Leak: Police Draw Flak Following 3 Journalists’ Arrests
A total of three cases were lodged in connection with the paper leak at three police stations – Kotwali, Nagra and Sikandarpur. While Ojha was granted bail by the District Court on Monday in the case lodged at Kotwali, a lower court had already given bail to Gupta and Singh on Friday in the cases lodged at Nagra and Sikandarpur police stations.
The district administration faced a backlash from across the country, including political parties, journalists bodies and human right activists. They had called the arrest "arbitrary" and demanded their immediate release.
Journalists in the district have been protesting continuously for a month against their arrest under the banner of Samyukta Patrakar Sangharsh Morcha. The stir was later converted into a token hunger strike.
Read Also: UP: Protest Against Journalists’ Arrest in Ballia Grows Louder, Call For 'Ballia Bandh' Tomorrow
Hundreds of scribes under the banner of Allahabad News Reporters also hit the road in Prayagraj to express solidarity with their counterparts and raised slogans against the administration for illegally arresting journalists.
'TREATED LIKE CRIMINALS, PATHETIC CONDITION OF JAIL'
Huge crowds of journalists gathered to welcome the journalists outside the Azamgarh district jail, where they had been lodged. Scores of journalists were spotted carrying garlands as the three scribes walked out of prison on Monday.
As soon as they came out of the jail, the journalists slammed the District Magistrate and Superintendent of police of Ballia and accused the Ballia district administration of putting them in jail to hide their shortcomings.
"There was support from media colleagues and people from our district irrespective of profession that built pressure on the administration and today we have come out of prison. We and our family know how we spent 28 days in jail," said the journalists.
Highlighting the "pathetic condition of prison", they said: "The condition of the prison is worse than a normal toilet. Even a toilet in a poor household is better than this jail. One can gauge the condition of district prisons that it's hard to even breathe there. We were treated like hardcore criminals and tortured by the authorities to admit a crime that we did not commit. With the help of people of Ballia and journalists we are out today."
Accusing the Ballia DM and SP, the journalists alleged that both of them were involved in the paper leak. “One officer helped by copying papers while others extorted money,” they alleged.
The three journalists claimed that even before the start of the UP board examination, copies and question papers were being sold in the markets of Ballia and this information went viral on social media. But, instead of taking action against the accused, the DM and SP “were constantly hiding their failure and made journalists the scapegoats”.
The arrested journalists maintained they were “framed” by the district administration because of their reportage.
"I had first received the leaked Sanskrit paper and sent it to my editor. It got published in the newspaper. The next day, our publication carried out another piece of paper leak which was Class 12 English paper. Our news piece exposed the Ballia administration. The administration got angry with us and we were framed in a criminal case instead of finding a nexus," said Digvijay Singh.
"After being repeatedly asked by the district administration about the source of our news, we informed them, but the district administration has framed me instead," another arrested journalist said.
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