Continuing a spate of attacks on scribes – now against the backdrop of the farmers’ protests – an FIR has been registered against The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan for tweeting a story reporting claims made by the family of the farmer who was killed during the Republic Day tractor rally.
The FIR against Vardarajan registered by the police in the Rampur district of the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh invokes Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). It is the latest addition to the list of cases registered against seven journalists – Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod K Hose, Anant Nath, Paresh Nath, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, and Mandeep Punia – in four different states. This is the second case that has been registered by the Uttar Pradesh police against Varadarajan. The previous case was registered by the Ayodhya police, also for a tweet, in April 2020.
The tweet in question, as per the FIR, by The Wire editor says, “Hardeep Singh Dibdiba, grandfather of the youth killed in tractor parade, levels a sensational charge—that a doctor who was part of the autopsy told him a bullet caused the injuries “but my hands are tied”. @IsmatAraa has the story.”
As per the report referred to here, the family of Navreet Singh – the young man killed during the tractor parade in the capital on January 26 – had refused to accept the Delhi police’s claim that he died because his tractor overturned. The family had claimed instead that he had been shot in consonance with the allegation of the farmers who say they were witness to the incident near ITO in Delhi.
On Saturday, the Rampur district magistrate had responded to Varadarajan’s tweet saying, “We ardently request you to please let’s be sticking to facts and facts only (sic).”
Reacting to the news of the FIR filed against him, Varadarajan tweeted on Sunday, “What’s the IPC provision for “malicious prosecution”? Here is the UP Police indulging in it, filing an FIR against me for tweeting about what the grandfather of farmer who was killed in the tractor parade had said on the record!”
He further said, “In UP, it is a crime for media to report statements of relatives of a dead person if they question a postmortem or police version of cause of death. I think this new ‘law’ has come in the wake of godi media coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput postmortem. […] Make no mistake, the case is against me but the intention is to ensure the dead man's family shuts up. Navreet Singh's family's doubts and concerns may be valid or not but denying them the right to air those adds to their grief.”
“This is a pathetic excuse on the part of the concerned state governments. In a moving story, things change on a regular basis. Accordingly, the reporting reflects the circumstances, when large crowds are involved and the air is thick with suppositions, suspicions, and hypotheses, there can sometimes be a divergence between earlier and later reports. It is criminal to ascribe this to motivated reporting, as is sought to have been done,” the Press Council of India said in a statement.
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