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New Delhi: At least 40 journalists and YouTube content creators from Telangana who present news and discuss politics on their platforms were allegedly detained by the state police and subjected to harassment on January 6 for speaking against the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government and chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, The News Minute has reported.
While many of them claim to be journalists, police question their credentials, stating that they do not have requisite permission from the Information and Public Relations department to broadcast ‘news’. The Wire has not been able to verify the claims of either those detained or the police.
Be that as may, there have been several instances (read here, here and here) in Telangana, even recently, where the ruling dispensation has cracked down on journalists and others (opinion-makers on social media platforms) who made critical remarks about the government.
Speaking about the latest detentions, the content creators allege that there were picked up in an illegal manner, without any notice, before being questioned for nearly straight 12 hours by the police. Some allege that the police also took their phones and formatted them, in violation of the law.
“Why are you speaking against the government? Why are you so against the chief minister? These were the questions they kept asking,” News Minute quotes Musham Srinivas, a reporter at Tolivelugu, a Telugu digital news channel, as saying.
Srinivas believes that his coverage of the recent Huzurabad election – where KCR’s once-close-aide-turned-rival Eetala Rajendar from the BJP emerged victorious, to the embarrassment of the ruling TRS – led the government to intimidate him and others using state machinery.
“About four to five Special Operations Team policemen in plainclothes from Pet Basheerabad came to my room in Madhuranagar [Hyderabad], and without any explanation bundled me into a vehicle at around 11:30 am. I was detained without any valid reason for nearly 12 hours. After seizing my phone, they formatted it, which is again totally against the law,” alleges Srinivas.
Recounting the incident as “scary”, Srinivas says that none of his family members knew about his whereabouts when he was detained, and adds that nobody can differentiate if the men who came to his house that day were the police or goondas.
Srinivas notes that while no case has been filed against him, the police let him go around midnight after warning him not to speak against the TRS government.
In another instance, one Dasari Srinivas, who runs the YouTube channel Kaloji TV, was booked by the Balanagar police under the Cyberabad Commissionerate. He was charged under Sections 505 (1) (b) (with intent to cause alarm or fear to the public), 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), 504 (intentional insult to provoke breach of peace) and 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc) of IPC (Indian Penal Code) for making critical comments against chief minister KCR and his daughter K. Kavitha, who is an MLC.
The action against Dasari came after a TRS worker, Jaligam Rajesh, filed a case against him. Rajesh, in his complaint, alleged that Dasari had created panic among people at large through some of his Facebook posts, which he described as “false”.
“The police want to know my sources, from where I was getting the information about K. Kavitha’s illegal assets. And regarding why I was so critical of the government. If you see my posts, it is evident that I did not make any personal comments,” says Dasari.
He also alleges that the police has seized his equipment – cameras, microphones, laptops, among others – making it impossible for him to make any further videos for his YouTube channel.
In another case, G. Shivaram and Praveen Reddy, who run the YouTube channels GSR TV Telugu and Right Voice respectively, were arrested by the Karimnagar police for allegedly operating channels without permission. The police have slapped one case against Right Voice and four cases against GSR TV Telugu.
“I’m not affiliated with the BJP. I cover all parties, be it the Congress, BJP or TRS,” says Shivram.
Speaking about the arrests, Karimnagar commissioner of police V. Satyanarayana says, “Individuals, celebrities, officers, public representatives, prime minister, chief minister, ministers, MPs are being individually targeted in a very derogatory manner on social media. Posts that promote enmity between groups are being made. This is an offence under the IT Act.”
Satyanarayana adds that those arrested were not registered with any media house. “They don’t have accreditation nor do they have the permission of the Information and Public Relations Department.”
The police official further claims that both the YouTube channels made distasteful comments against their political opponents using their thumbnails and taglines.
“They were even targeting police officers. For this, we seized their phones and other equipment. They confessed to the crime. Claiming to be a legitimate media outlet, they were employing people and covering every incident before any mainstream media house arrived, and twisting them [the narrative],” says Satyanarayana, adding that crackdown against channels will continue if they resort to “derogatory remarks against public representatives”.
According to News Minute, “All the arrested reporters have been critical of the TRS government. A cursory look at the videos on Kaloji TV, GSR TV and Right Voice indicates their inclination towards the BJP.”
This apart, recently, Hyderabad Police threatened to revoke the passports of non-resident Indians (NRIs) who post hateful or derogatory content on social media. Several NRIs from Telangana participate in the political discourse of the state by regularly posting videos on social media. Hyderabad Police commissioner C.V. Anand told officers to register cases and issue lookout notices against NRIs who indulge in such activities.
“Their passports will be seized and visas too will be cancelled as per legal provisions,” Anand said on January 4.