Delhi Police Arrest Journalist at Singhu Protest Site, Detain and Release Another

Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist, was arrested and will be produced in court. Dharmender Singh, who works for Online News India, was detained and let go at 5 am on Sunday.

New Delhi: The Delhi police on Saturday detained two journalists covering the ongoing farmers’ agitation at Delhi’s Singhu border. While one of them, Mandeep Punia is a freelance journalist and contributor to the Caravan magazine, another journalist, Dharmender Singh, is a Delhi-based journalist who works for Online News India.

Punia, according to the editors of the Caravan magazine, was on the ground gathering information about the violence that was reported at the protest site two days ago. A group of around 150 men claiming to be “local residents” had managed to get past three layers of security barricades on January 29 and reach the protest site at the Singhu border.

They had staged a brief protest of their own claiming that the farmers’ agitation had affected their livelihood, and within no time had clashed with farm protesters. All this happened in full view of the police, with videos showing that the police were silent spectators when the group began pelting stones at the farmers. Leaders of farmers’ union have claimed that the mob was “sponsored” by the BJP and RSS.

Soon after the news broke about Punia’s detention and a video of him being dragged across the barricade went viral, Hartosh Bal, the political editor of Caravan magazine posted on Twitter that Punia had spent the entire day trying to verify the truth behind the protest. “We’ve learnt Mandeep had spent the morning trying to track down those from BJP claiming to be ‘locals’ at Singhu,” Bal tweeted.

He also wrote that the magazine was informed by Additional DCP J. Meena that an FIR (no: 52/21) was registered at the Alipur police station and section 186, 332, and 353 of the Indian Penal Code were slapped on Punia. All three sections correspond to obstructing any public servant in the discharge of his public function and are bailable offences.

Until late on Saturday, there was no clarity on whether Punia and Singh were arrested or simply detained and eventually allowed to go. In one of his late-night updates, Bal tweeted that the magazine has since been trying to find out precise information from the Delhi Police about Punia’s whereabouts and at least until 11 pm, the organisation was waiting to hear from the police.

But on Sunday morning, the magazine was informed that Punia was formally arrested and would be produced before a magistrate.

According to the Indian Express, Singh was released at 5 am. A Newslaundry reporter said that Singh was released after signing an undertaking which said “he will not do anything like this in future”. It is not clear which actions of Singh the undertaking refers to.

According to reports, a protest has been planned at the Delhi police’ Patel Chowk headquarters.

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said the BJP is trying to “crush” the farmers’ movement, criticising the cases filed against journalists.

“[The government has] forgotten that if you try to suppress a voice, many more will rise up against your atrocities,” she said.

On Sunday afternoon, reports said that Poonia was sent to judicial custody without his defence lawyer being present. The lawyer claimed that he was informed Poonia would be presented in court at 2 pm, but was produced earlier.

Over the past few days, sedition cases have been slapped on journalists for sharing “unverified” news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26.

The FIRs were filed in relation to the reporting of the death of a farmer at the tractor rally. Some early reports had suggested that a young farmer, named Navreet Singh, had died from a police bullet. Later, it was claimed that he died because his tractor overturned.

The FIRs were filed across three BJP-ruled states, and also Delhi, against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, the Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K. Jose, and one unnamed person.

On Sunday, the Uttar Pradesh police filed a separate FIR against Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire. The UP police registered a case against Varadarajan for tweeting about what the grandfather of Navreet Singh had said on the record.

Several media organisations have criticised the filing of cases against journalists, comparing the situation to an ‘undeclared emergency’.

“These charges are meant not only to intimidate and harass the journalists but to also to terrorise professionals, to make you afraid to do your job,” said Seema Mustafa, president of the Editor’s Guild of India.