New Delhi: A day after the Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR against The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan, The Wire and its reporter Ismat Ara have also been added to the FIR during the investigation.
The case was registered at the Civil Lines police station of Rampur district against Varadarajan for a tweet which shared an article written by Ara, published by The Wire on January 30. The article shared claims made by the family of a protester who died during the farmers’ tractor rally on Republic Day.
The initial FIR was filed on a complaint by one Sanju Turaha, a resident of Rampur district and Ara’s name was later added on the complaint of another local, Saquib Hussain.
Sansar Singh, ASP, Rampur said, “During the investigation, the author of the article Ismat Ara and TheWire.in’s name also came to light.” A press release by Uttar Pradesh police says, “In the same matter, another complaint was filed by Saquib, son of Sardar Hussain, residence behind public hospital P.S. Rampur. That complaint has also been included in the same FIR.”
The FIR against Varadarajan and Ara has been registered under Sections 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.
The complaint alleges that Varadarajan’s tweet and Ara’s article have “led to anger among the common people in Rampur and has given rise to tension.” A tweet by Rampur district magistrate, replying to Varadarajan’s tweet, also said, “Hope you understand your story could cause law and order problem here. It has already caused tensed situation here (sic).”
Hope you understand your story could cause law and order problem here. It has already caused tensed situation here. Responsibility?
— DM Rampur (@DeoRampur) January 30, 2021
The FIR against Varadarajan was filed on January 31. In his tweet, Varadarajan shared the article with a direct quote by Hardeep Singh Dibdiba – the deceased youngster’s grandfather, who has alleged that Navreet Singh had died of a bullet injury.
This claim is contrary to the Delhi police’s version, which claims that he had died in an accident when his tractor overturned. The Delhi police had also released CCTV footage in which a tractor can be seen hitting a police barricade with force and going turtle. Later, an autopsy report by Rampur’s district hospital also did not mention any bullet injuries. But the family claimed the bullet injury was excluded under the government’s pressure, claiming that a doctor had informed them the cause of death was a bullet wound.
Soon after the FIR was filed against him, Varadarajan wrote on Twitter, “In UP, it is a crime for media to report statements of relatives of a dead person if they question a postmortem or police version of cause of death.”
What’s the IPC provision for “malicious prosecution”? Here is the UP Police indulging in it, filing an FIR against me for tweeting about what the grandfather of farmer who was killed in the tractor parade had said on the record! https://t.co/yRMAXtAXKm
— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) January 31, 2021
“What’s the IPC provision for “malicious prosecution”?” he asked, adding, “Here is the UP Police indulging in it, filing an FIR against me for tweeting about what the grandfather of farmer who was killed in the tractor parade had said on the record!”
The Wire‘s, apart from reporting the allegations of Singh’s family, also contain the responses of the police and hospital administration.
Responding to Vardarajan’s original tweet, the Rampur district magistrate on 30 January 30 wrote, “We ardently request you to please let’s be sticking to facts and facts only (sic).” He added, “We hope our request will be sincerely taken up by you.”
He also shared a copy of the official declaration by the three doctors who had carried out Navreet Singh’s autopsy, saying the quotes in the report were false. The doctors also said that they have not given any statements to the media or any individual on this matter, and they will only give a statement if required by a court.
However, The Wire has audio recordings of the conversation between Ara and CMO of Rampur district hospital’s chief medical officer Manoj Shukla, in which he had refuted the allegations made by the family and said that they were “lying”. He added, “We do the post mortem immediately and hand over the copy to the concerned SSP and SHO.” When asked if the youngster had a bullet injury, he did not deny it and said, “The doctors who have written it will be able to tell…”
It has come to my knowledge that last night, my name was added in the FIR against @svaradarajan by UP police. This is the story for which I have been booked. It has the family’s version, the police as well as the hospital versions.https://t.co/Cq0s0gDdOH
— Ismat Ara (@IsmatAraa) February 1, 2021
After the FIR was filed, The Wire published a video story on the same issue.
The Wire will not be deterred by FIRs from covering a story.
Here is our video report from Rampur. Watch the family of the young farmer killed in the tractor parade speak of its concerns about a coverup, a charge the admin denies.https://t.co/rfISCeQkaJ via @thewire_in
— Siddharth (@svaradarajan) February 1, 2021
Deeply disturbing report. “Fake news” or “forbidden news”? https://t.co/Ev3wBREQUc
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) January 30, 2021
Singh’s death at the Centre of multiple FIRs
Singh’s death is at the centre of multiple FIRs that have been registered against journalists and Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. Besides Varadajan and Ara, India Today’s journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Ananth Nath and Vinod K. Jose have also been named in FIRs filed by the police in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Delhi. A range of charges, including sedition, have been invoked against them.