After AYUSH Ministry Story, Police Asks Milli Gazette Why Licence Shouldn’t Be Suspended

Milli Gazette had published a story saying the AYUSH ministry didn’t recruit Muslim yoga instructors, which the ministry later denied and said was based on forgeries.

Investigative journalist Pushp Sharma. Credit: Facebook

Investigative journalist Pushp Sharma, who wrote the story on AYUSH ministry recruitments for Milli Gazette. Credit: Facebook

New Delhi: A “reader supported newspaper” which claims that it is there to “help Muslims get a stronger voice”, Milli Gazette has in its latest edition reported that ever since it carried a report in early March, titled ‘We don’t recruit Muslims: AYUSH ministry’,  it has been “facing an existential threat from the Modi government”. The paper has been served a police notice asking why its declaration should not be cancelled, they said.

In its July edition, editor Zafarul Islam Khan has written an article stating that the threat being faced by the organisation now is the gravest in its 17 years of existence. This is despite it having faced many threats earlier, including death threats to Khan.

The government is being harsh on the newspaper, Khan said. The Delhi police licensing office (directly under the union home ministry) wrote to Milli Gazette on May 30 asking why the newspaper’s declaration or licence should not be cancelled.

“Cancellation of the declaration means the newspaper will become illegal. We replied to this show-cause notice and are still waiting for further clarifications from the DCP licensing (police licensing office) despite the passage of over three weeks on our hand-delivered reply,” he said.

Speaking to The Wire, Khan said he had written to the Delhi police to ask who had filed the complaint and what the basis for seeking action against his newspaper was. “But I have not received any reply from them.”

The newspaper said it had published the article by freelance investigative journalist Pushp Sharma in its March 16-31 edition. According to Sharma, the article was based on the reply to an RTI query on the overseas recruitment of Muslim yoga trainers for the 2015 World Yoga Day programmes. Though a query from The Wire on the day Milli Gazette‘s story appeared went unanswered, the ministry later denied that any such recruitments were made and claimed that the report was bogus and filed on the basis of forged documents.

Khan wrote that instead of treating the news item as an “ordinary report”, state agencies have been let loose on it. He compared this case to a Times of India report about the CBI’s soft-pedalling over the Vyapam scandal, which was dealt with simply by the Central Bureau of Investigation issuing a press statement on June 15.

“Do we have two standards: one for small publications and another for big giants?” he asked.

“It (the ministry) could have sent a rejoinder or, at worst, could have complained to the concerned regulatory authority, the Press Council of India, in case we refused to publish its rejoinder. We were always ready to publish a rejoinder, statement or clarification should the ministry send it to us. Instead, it chose to file a police complaint. As a result, the journalist (Pushp Sharma) who wrote that story was mercilessly interrogated for days and later arrested and jailed for around two weeks. Now he is out on bail while the case takes its normal slow course in the courts,” Khan lamented.

Incidentally, Milli Gazette also presented its case before the Press Council of India on July 12. The council had earlier in April decided to probe the matter, since it involved serious allegations against a journalist and a news organisation.

Khan alleged in his article that the action against Milli Gazette “simply shows the desperation of the Modi government to silence this little nagging bird. We are fighting and will continue to fight against this injustice through all legal venues open to us. But should the Modi government succeed in silencing this feeble voice, we will call it a day and will leave it to history to remember this as yet another colossal injustice to the freedom of press the like of which was inflicted by the colonial rulers on Maulana Azad’s Al-Balagh and Muhammad Ali’s Hamdard and Comrade.”