New Delhi: The Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday filed a first information report (FIR) against The Wire and two its journalists late on Thursday night for a video report about the alleged illegal demolition of a mosque in Barabanki. The mosque was demolished by the local authorities on May 17, 2021, an event that was reported at the time by The Wire and other media platforms in India and abroad.
The video shows local residents describing events leading up to and following what they said was the illegal demolition of the Gareeb Nawaz Al Maroof Mosque mosque in Ram Snehi Ghat, Barabanki. The video also shows The Wire‘s reporter asking to meet the current sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) of Ram Sanehi Ghat, Jitendra Katiyar, to discuss the case. Katiyar refused to speak about the matter, saying the demolition happened before he took up the post and that he would not be able to comment about it.
The FIR registered by the Barabanki police does not use the word ‘mosque’ and describes the demolished structure instead as an ‘illegal building”. It alleges that tweets about the video posted by The Wire and two of its journalists – Seraj Ali and Mukul Singh Chauhan – on Twitter spread ‘animosity in society’ and ‘disturb communal harmony’. The tweets in question are not identified in the FIR.
Apart from Ali, Chauhan and The Wire, the FIR also names Mohammad Anees, secretary of the mosque committee, and Mohammad Naeem, one of the local residents that The Wire spoke to in the video. The FIR was lodged on the basis of a complaint lodged by a police officer.
How a Mosque in UP’s Barabanki Was Demolished.
— The Wire (@thewire_in) June 23, 2021
The Wire has called the Barabanki police’s charges “baseless”, accusing the UP government of “criminalising the work of journalists who are reporting what is happening in the state”.
The video is about the Barabanki district administration’s demolition of a mosque located inside the premises of the Ramsnehi Ghat tehsil on May 17. In its demolition order, the district administration refused to describe it as a mosque, instead calling it an “illegal structure”. The Gareeb Nawaz Al Maroof Mosque was registered with the UP Sunni Waqf Board, The Wire had reported. The Waqf Board described the district administration’s action as “illegal” and moved the Allahabad high court, which issued notice on June 23.
According to the Indian Express, Barabanki district magistrate Adarsh Singh said in a statement on Thursday night that the video has “false and baseless information”.
“The video contains several wrong and baseless statements, including the one which says that the administration and police threw religious scriptures in drain and river. This is false. Nothing of this sort happened. With misinformation like this, The Wire is trying to spread animosity in society and disturbing communal harmony,” he said.
Superintendent of police (Barabanki) Yamuna Prasad said that Mohammad Naeem was named in the FIR because he had made “false claims about religious books being thrown in the river and drain”.
In a statement to the media on Thursday, Siddharth Varadarajan, The Wire‘s founding editor, said,
“This is the fourth FIR filed by the UP Police in the past 14 months against The Wire and/or its journalists and each of these cases is baseless. The Adityanath government does not believe in media freedom and is criminalising the work of journalists who are reporting what is happening in the state.
“In Uttar Pradesh, politicians and anti-social elements can openly spew communal hatred and advocate violence, but the police never see these actions as a threat to communal harmony and law and order. But when journalists report the statements of people who allege wrongdoing on the part of the administration — in this case, the allegation is of the illegal demolition of a mosque — FIRs are immediately filed. The Wire is not going to be intimidated by these tactics.”
The Barabanki FIR invokes various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (1) (b) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).
Other cases filed by police
Ten days ago, on June 14, an FIR was filed against The Wire in Ghaziabad for a tweet which said the assault of a Muslim man was communal in nature, quoting the victim himself. In February 2021, the Rampur police filed an FIR against Varadarajan and Ismat Ara of The Wire for reporting the claim made by the grandfather of the young farmer who was killed in Delhi during the farmers’ protest of January 26, 2021, that his grandson had died of bullet injuries.
In April 2020, the Ayodhya police filed cases against Varadarajan for a news report in The Wire which had pointed out that a large religious event was still being planned in Ayodhya even as the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi was being attacked for having held an event amidst the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. A detachment of the UP police arrived at Varadarajan’s Delhi residence in the middle of the national lockdown in April 2020 to ‘summon’ him to the Ayodhya police station.
Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls in February 2022.