Armed forces

Authorities Urged to Drop Charges Against Journalist Behind ‘Sahayak System’ Story

Journalists’ body alleges that the government and army are focusing on Poonam Agarwal to derail the debate on the controversial ‘sahayak system’.

Poonam Agarwal. Credit: Facebook

Poonam Agarwal. Credit: Facebook

New Delhi: The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) has sent letters to various authorities – including home minister Rajnath Singh and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis – urging them to drop the cases filed against Quint journalist Poonam Agarwal.

Agarwal has been charged with offences under the Official Secrets Act and abetment of suicide for a video story she did which sought to reveal the exploitation of enlisted men that the army’s ‘sahayak system’ involves. However, soon after the story was published in February, Roy Matthew – the soldier featured in the video – was found dead, having allegedly committed suicide.

Matthew’s family said the soldier was distraught at having been filmed – the journalist had used a hidden camera to record what he was saying – and worried at what the consequences would be.

The NWMI letter refers to charges filed against Agarwal as a “disproportionate reaction” to Matthew’s suicide given that she has been singled out with no regard for the role played by her employer, The Quint, in the production and publication of the video story. The group also urges the army to pursue its objections through the Press Council of India.

The letter strongly condemns the slapping of charges against Agarwal and lists out the following objections”

“1. The intent of any journalistic enterprise, including Aggarwal’s is to report on wrong-doings and misconduct in places of power where common citizens who feel scared of voicing their fears or complaints, do so to a journalist. The intent therefore is to strengthen systems and be the voice of the underdogs, in this case, the jawans. The intent is not to compromise national security.

2. The army cannot make the claim that Poonam Aggarwal was giving out information on the army unless it wishes to make the case that the exploitative ‘sahayak’ or ‘buddy’ system is meant to be an official secret.

3. The army has not established how Poonam Aggarwal’s under-cover report released in the public domain on a legitimate and legal news media site can be called “spying.”

4. As far as entering a restricted area is concerned, the generally accepted line of inquiry is to establish why this was done. If it is to expose something that is of national interest and in the interest of exposing wrong-doing then it is practiced in India repeatedly and around the world. It does not justify her being charged with a violation of the Official Secrets Act.

5. To charge Poonam Aggarwal with abetting the suicide of Lance Naik Mathew is far-fetched and completely misleading. In this case, the lens should apply to the army, and the inquiry they may have conducted on officers and jawans after Aggarwal’s report was released and the role this may have played. If the police is conducting a fair investigation, this is a question that will need to be answered in the course of the inquiry.”

The letter concludes by saying, “We urge the government and the army to thoroughly investigate all angles of this case, and withdraw the charges under the Official Secrets Act and the abetting of suicide since they have no sound basis. It is also apparent that the government and the army is focused on Aggarwal in an effort to derail a thorough and much needed debate on the sahayak system.”

Note: The Wire competes with Quint

  • Ady K

    Why did Poonam Agarwal record the interview with the soldier secretly? Why did she not clearly tell him that she was recording the interview and with what intention? By doing things the way she did, she placed him in a situation of such extreme stress that he probably couldn’t take it. If the deceased soldier had taken the a conscious decision to speak out against his duties as a sahayak/buddy to the media he probably would have been in a better position to handle the outcome of the interview. By denying him that opportunity of taking a informed decision Poonam Agarwal, without a doubt, led him into a compromised situation.

  • blueblood88

    Is it okay for a person to enter sensitive locations if he/she has a degree in journalism?

    If Ms. Aggarwal cannot be prosecuted for entering illegally (regardless of her motive), then should a person be charged if he/she illegally enters BARC or PMO or an air or naval base under the guise of journalism?