Fatehpur: More than a dozen scribes from the communally-sensitive district of Fatehpur, in Uttar Pradesh, on Sunday lodged a protest against the district administration, by standing waist-deep in a river.
The scribes who resorted to Jal Satyagraha, were protesting against the district administration, which had registered an FIR against one of the journalists under Sections 188, 269, 270, 120-B, 385, 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897.
The protest continued on Monday, with scribes in small numbers following the same template at different locations along the river-banks of the Yamuna and Ganga in the district. While protesting, the scribes raised slogans against the administration and demanded that the government withdraws the cases filed against the journalists, and transfers and conducts an enquiry against the accused, Fatehpur District Magistrate Sanjeev Singh.
Ajay Singh Bhadauria, the President of the district journalists association, while speaking to the media, said: “This district magistrate is no less than a dictator; from insulting journalists in public to lodging an FIR for exposing the failure of administration. He is doing whatever comes to mind.”
The FIR had been registered against Bhadauria at the Sadar Kotwali for the story of blind couple from Vijaipur block, who were not getting food. The incident went viral on social media, which irked the district magistrate, said Bhadauria.
Vivek Mishra, a journalist who works for the Dainik Bhaskar Group, claimed that he was also booked under sections of the IPC, for exposing the administration. Mishra had written about a Gaushala where the bovines were not being given food and were falling prey to wild dogs.
“A lot of corruption will be discovered if a proper investigation is conducted into the matter,” Mishra told NewsClick over the phone.
The print media advisor to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath declined to comment on the issue, saying he was not authorised to speak, while calls to Sanjeev Singh, Fathehpur’s DM, went unanswered.
On Sunday, the district magistrate released a press note, saying that an investigation by the District Information Officer had found that Bhadauria – who has been a journalist for 32 years – “is not associated with any print or electronic media in the year 2020. Bhadauria has constantly used his personal Twitter account to defame the administration by tweeting one-sided rumours.”
Brajesh Mishra, a senior journalist in Lucknow, said that the move by the district magistrate is unconstitutional, and unethical.
“The government should immediately take cognisance of this incident and transfer the accused DM. The government should also ensure that this person never gets to handle the post of a district collector or magistrate because he is not eligible. The way he has been dealing with the journalists is condemnable and proper action should be taken against him,” he said, adding that “this is a clear case of suppressing press freedom in respective districts; earlier, similar patterns had been recorded in other districts of the state as well.”
Siddhartha Murya, 26, a journalist with Sadhna News and K News, was one of nine journalists booked on the orders of Mau District Magistrate Gyan Prakash Tripathi in April. “The district magistrate called us for a press conference and by the time I reached home, I got a call from the local police station that an FIR has been lodged against me and eight other journalists for violating the lockdown orders. I think the intention behind this step is that the administration or the government does not want to take the questions and gets irked when their accountability is questioned. Surprisingly, the local police station officer had told me that the FIR was lodged on the orders of DM and SSP but the RTI reply I got says I was standing at a paan shop, which is not true. In another reply, it was said that DM personally gave an oral order to register the FIR. We have stopped attending his press conferences and we need justice,” he alleged.
The journalist accused of violating the lockdown, said that the experience has been mentally disturbing as he cannot work or sleep properly due to the FIR against him. All the nine journalists have written a joint letter to the President of India, requesting his intervention in this matter.