Lucknow: 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 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 was 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 FIR in Rampur has been lodged on the complaint of one Sanju Tauriaha at the Civil Lines police station. As per the summary in the FIR, “After reading the article, people in Rampur were angered and there is a tense situation. It looks like this post was made under a conspiracy to create unrest and stoke violence.”
The FIR further states that this post was made despite “the fact that three doctors have carried out the postmortem and the findings have been submitted to the concerned authorities in a sealed envelope”. “The three doctors have denied all insinuations and allegations in the (report), but Varadarjan has still left the tweet up. This was done deliberately to stoke tension,” the FIR summary reads.
Speaking to NewsClick Varadarajan said, “It is an undeclared emergency in states like UP, MP and others.”
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 the media to report statements of relatives of a dead person if they question a postmortem or police version of the 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 an undeclared emergency,” Vardarajan told NewsClick.
'NOT THE FIRST TIME'
Lucknow-based journalist and editor-in-chief of a Hindi regional channel, Brajesh Mishra, while speaking to NewsClick, said that hundreds of FIRs have been lodged against journalists in Uttar Pradesh in the past three-four years.
“The Bharatiya Janata Party ruling in Uttar Pradesh has been filing FIRs against journalists in the state only to stop them from exposing the government and their failures. Scribes from across India should come together to protest against such police cases being lodged against reporters in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.
Manish Pandey, another scribe from Lucknow who works with a regional daily, told NewsClick, “What does the government want to show by booking the journalists? This is not the first time hundreds of cases have been registered across the state for exposing failures of the system. When I wrote a report, I was called by the police and instead of working on the failure of the government, they were more interested in finding the source of news, which is obviously not okay for the health of the democracy. This cannot be accepted.”
It may also be noted that five days ago, an FIR was registered against three journalists from a local news channel for alleged misreporting. Their report had said that primary school students, who were not dressed to shield them from the winter, were performing yoga and other physical exercises at a government school in the biting cold. The event was part of a cultural programme organised to commemorate Uttar Pradesh Day on January 24.
The FIR was lodged at Akbarpur police station in Kanpur Dehat district under Sections 505 (with intent to incite...any class or community of persons to commit any offence…) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code on Tuesday evening.
Also read: Union Budget 2021-22 and the Issue of the Fiscal ‘Stimulus’