New Delhi: Several journalist unions have condemned the arrest of Sanjay Rana, a YouTube reporter, by the Uttar Pradesh police last week. Rana was arrested after questioning state minister for secondary education Gulab Devi at a function on March 12 about unfulfilled promises.
The Indian Journalists Union has said that the arrest of the reporter in Uttar Pradesh’s Sambhal district last week “smacks of vendetta and overreach of power” and is a blatant incident to illegally penalise him for posing critical questions to a state minister.
The Union condemned the arrest and said that police action against Rana happened conspicuously after he asked “questions to a minister over her unfulfilled promises of development work during a function”. Rana was eventually granted bail but not before remaining in police custody for over 30 hours.
“The video, which went viral has been seen by the IJU, wherein Rana was merely reminding Minister of State (Independent) for Secondary Education, Gulab Devi, about the tall promises she had made, such as the village having a concrete road, building a barat ghar (marriage hall), a toilet, boundary wall around the village temple,” the Union’s statement said.
“The Minister, clearly embarrassed, replied she had been watching his ‘eyes’ throughout and that she still had time to complete the work,” the statement added.
The Union noted that not even a day had passed since the event when the Sambhal police arrested Rana based on a complaint by a leader associated with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the BJP’s youth wing.
“An FIR under IPC Sections 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), was filed against Rana,” the Union said.
“It’s undoubtedly a case of harassment and intimidation of Rana, to stop him from doing his job of reporting and seeking accountability,” the journalists’ association said, claiming that the BJP-led UP government has become “notorious for filing FIRs against journalists” and “must desist from misusing laws and such authoritative functioning”.
“It must remember that the government and its ministers are answerable to the public,” the IJU statement said.
In a similar vein, the Mumbai Press Club asked, “What meaning will ‘Freedom of the Press’ – a constitutionally guaranteed Fundamental Right – have if journalists are not allowed to ask questions of ministers?”
The Mumbai Press Club said that although the BJYM leader in his complaint has alleged that Rana was a “fake journalist” and has deliberately come drunk to disrupt the event, the video footage available “amply proves that the journalist had merely raised a few questions, which were thereafter supported by members of the public.”
“From prima facie evidence, it is clear there was no attempt by the police to verify from the newspaper’s editor whether he was on official duty before arresting him,” the Mumbai Press Club statement noted.
It quoted Dharmendra Singh, the editor of Moradabad Ujala, as saying that Rana’s arrest points towards a “horrible situation” for journalists in the state where they “cannot even ask questions of ministers.”
“The Mumbai Press Club also expresses its shock and disgust at the way Sanjay Rana was held by the Kotwali Police like a common criminal by tying him with ropes and dragging him to the police station. The attempt was obviously to insult and humiliate not only the journalist, but send out a warning to media persons,” it said, demanding that the UP government immediately withdraw all charges against Rana and set up an independent inquiry against the minister and other police personnel.
Similarly, the Press Club of India said that the UP police action against Rana indicated that there existed an environment of fear to prevent journalists from working independently and professionally.
It demanded that such misuse of power should immediately be stopped and the government should desist from vilifying journalists through allegedly false cases.
Earlier, the Press Council had also issued a notice to the UP government over Rana’s arrest.