Assam Journalist Arrested After Reports on Smuggling, Channel to Move HC

The complain against Rajib Sarma was filed by divisional forest officer Biswajit Roy, who the journalist had accused of being involved in the smuggling.

Guwahati: Assam-based news channel DY365 has decided to move the Gauhati high court seeking justice for its correspondent, Rajib Sarma, who has been arrested by the Dhubri police. An FIR was filed against Sarma by a divisional forest officer (DFO) in the Dhubri forest division, accusing the reporter of ‘extortion’ and ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’.

The FIR was a result of a series of segments that Sarma reported about Biswajit Roy, the DFO, for his alleged links to cattle smuggling and other illegal activities. The reports have been aired daily over the last few on DY365. The woman in Roy’s complaint (whose ‘modesty’ Sarma allegedly outraged) is Roy’s wife.

In the early hours of July 16, around 2 am, Sarma was arrested from his residence in Dhubri district by the police and taken away. His bedridden sexagenarian father, who was paralysed, reportedly passed away from a stroke soon after learning of his son’s arrest. He was found by his neighbours the next morning.

Journalists in Assam have derided the police’s decision to treat Sarma like a petty criminal, that too when he was taking care of his dependent father.

The channel, as per news reports on Friday, has already brought the issue to attention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the Press Council of India (PCI).

Three days ago, Sarma, DY365’s Dhubri district correspondent, presented his report on alleged rampant cattle smuggling that has been plaguing the district for a while. His report, titled ‘Gangs of Gauripur’ (Gauripur is a small town in Dhubri), was aired in the primetime slot. It covered cattle, timber and sand smuggling in and around the international ‘porous’ border that divides India and Bangladesh.

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On July 16, Sarma was granted three-day interim relief by the district court on account of his father’s death. He told media on July 16, “I have not even seen his [Roy’s] wife. I have not even spoken to her. This is a conspiracy on the part of the existing nexus between influential people who are involved in these illegal activities.”

Sarma, according to Atanu Bhuyan, consulting editor of DY365, has been reporting on various kind of illegal activities that have been occurring along the porous border dividing the two countries. Bhuyan said that his reporting was not new – Sarma has been exposing influential people who are involved in the smuggling nexus for almost a year.

Bhuyan told The Wire, “Our decision to move the high court is final. We have taken the issue seriously. It is not fair that a journalist is whisked away by the police in the late hours, like a common thief. His father died out of shock. Only Rajib and his father lived together in the house. When Rajib was taken away, the neighbours found the doors open the next day. His father was already dead; it is believed he died of shock.”

“We have audio recordings against Biswajit Roy,” Bhuyan continued. “We will fight for Rajib so that he gets justice. We live in a democracy, and to arrest a journalist just for reporting is an impediment to our society. Journalists from Assam have offered us their support.”

Roy’s FIR against Sarma states:

“With reference I would like to inform that Rajib on July 8 came to my office and told me he had something to talk about. He offered to talk not at my office but at my official residence. At my residence he initiated to talk of some irrelevant and illogical levels of corruption in the forest department under me. He told me that he and some journalists has prepared a draft news report against me which will be aired in no time through his news channel. He told me the telecast of the news would ruin my career as well as my personal and family life. He again told me that he could, however, manage to stop the news from being telecast and for that he demanded Rs one lakh and another Rs two lakh for his higher-ups in DY365. At this an altercation took place.”

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The FIR further makes complaints about Sarma ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’, Roy’s wife:

“My wife heard the conversation and when she asked Rajib Sarma about the reason of demand he misbehaved with her by using slang languages and also threatened both of us that if we tell anyone about the demand he will fabricate some bad news against both of us and our family life will be spoiled. He threatened me that if I do not fulfil his demand, he will air the false news accusing me of committing an offence under Section 409 of IPC. He forcefully took Rs 10, 000 from me. He threatened us of dire consequences if I reported the matter to the police or to anyone outside. As I did not fulfil his illegal demands, he by conspiring with others made telecast some false news on charges of corruption in my department under me and my wife. Both I and my wife are in a state of shock which has disturbed me mentally and has hampered in discharging my government duty.”

Sections 389 (Putting person in fear of accusation of offence, in order to commit extortion), 384 (Punishment for extortion), 385 (Putting person in fear of injury in order to commit extor­tion), 354 (Assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) and 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code have been levied against Sarma.