'Arrest Communal Hooligans; Release Jailed Scribes,' Says Press Club of India

'Going by the series of attacks on mediapersons in the recent past, it could be inferred that these people are hell-bent on gagging the press in its entirety,' the statement reads.

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New Delhi: The Press Club of India (PCI) on Tuesday, April 5 issued a statement condemning the recent attack on five journalists in Delhi’s Burari Grounds as well as the arrests of three journalists for their coverage of a paper leak case in Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia last week.

On April 3, five journalists, four of whom were Muslims, were allegedly attacked by a right-wing mob while covering a Hindu Mahapanchayat event at Burari. They include freelance journalists Arbab Ali and Meer Faisal; photojournalist Mohammad Meherbaan and The Quint’s principal correspondent Meghnad Bose.

The fifth journalist wishes to remain anonymous, for fear of intimidation. Moreover, Newslaundry reporters Shivangi and Rounak Bhatt were also allegedly attacked by the mob.

The event had been organised under the banner of the ‘Save India Foundation’ run by one Preet Singh, a follower of controversial Hindu priest Yati Narsinghanand, and Pinky Chaudhary, a Hindu Raksha Dal leader. The event was reportedly attended by hundreds of people and featured calls for violence against Muslims and communal propaganda.

The reporters also alleged that the police at the Mukherjee Nagar police station refused to immediately file first information reports (FIR) on the basis of their complaints. However, on April 4, three FIRs were registered against Narsinghanand and others at the event; the first under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with promoting enmity between groups and the other two specifically regarding the attacks on the journalists.

Also read: With Call for Violence Against Muslims at Burari, Yati Narsinghanand Violates Bail Conditions

Narsinghanand, who also spoke at the Haridwar Dharma Sansad held in December last year, had been arrested for his hate speech and genocide calls made at that event and was released in February this year.

However, while granting him bail, the Haridwar court had told Narsinghanand not to make any speeches which could disturb social harmony; a condition which he flagrantly violated on April 3.

The PCI’s April 5 statement called the attacks on the five journalists at the Hindu Mahapanchayat “highly deplorable” and alleged “preconceived nefarious designs of communal hooligans” to force journalists to toe their line.

“Going by the series of attacks on mediapersons in the recent past, it could be inferred that these people are hell-bent on gagging the press in its entirety,” the statement reads.

The PCI also pulls up the Delhi Police for not immediately arresting the perpetrators of the violence at Burari. As such, the press body demanded the arrest of the “hooligans with communal overtones” and sought for a judicial inquiry to be initiated into the series of events which led to the journalists being assaulted.

Journalists arrested in paper leak case

The PCI statement then goes on to condemn the administration of Uttar Pradesh’s Ballia district for arresting three journalists who had reported on the leak of a Uttar Pradesh Board Class 12 English paper.

Leaked copies of the paper began circulating online on March 30 and the next day, two Amar Ujala reporters Ajit Kumar Ojha and Digvijay Singh were arrested.

Also read: UP: 3 Journalists Arrested for Reporting on Paper Leak Case as Attack on Press Freedom Continues

Both reporters gave statements after their arrests and Ojha even alleged that his co-workers were manhandled and his office vandalised when police personnel arrested him from his office. Ojha, who is also a teacher at a secondary school in the district, was said to be arrested on the basis of “evidence” the police found, however, no more details were furnished.

Later, a third journalist, Manoj Gupta was also arrested. The total number of people arrested in the case now stands at 44, with the Ballia police allegedly identifying the “mastermind” behind the scheme; one Nirbhay Narayan Singh, the manager of Maharaji Devi Smarak Inter College in the district.

The PCI called the arrests of the journalists a case of the “…kettle calling the pot black,” observing a trend within the Uttar Pradesh government to not only threaten, but even arrest journalists who do not toe its line.

The statement goes on to call the Uttar Pradesh police “sycophants” and “more-than-eager” to arrest journalists to “please the powers that be”.

The statement concludes by calling for the release of the three jailed journalists and for the “mafiamen” involved in the paper leak to be held accountable.