Police in 3 States File Sedition Case Against Tharoor, Journalists for Tweets on Farmers' Rally

The Editor's Guild of India described the cases as an "attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media".

New Delhi: A total of three sedition cases have been filed across three BJP-ruled states 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, The Caravan editor Anant Nath and its executive editor Vinod K. Jose, and one unnamed person for sharing “unverified” news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26. 

The Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday set the ball rolling, registering a case which stated that the accused persons have “instigated violence” on January 26 through their posts on social media. It said that despite the large-scale attack on the police causing injuries to hundreds of policemen, the accused persons circulated fake news in a coordinated and well-planned manner alleging that the police have shot a person dead.

“It was done deliberately so that it causes a large-scale riot and communal violence among various communities,” the FIR alleged. It also said that their tweets led to the hoisting of the religious flag and other flags at Red Fort in place of the tricolour. 

“This act of theirs tried to build insurrection against the Indian Republic and tried to sow the seeds of enmity, violence and create a riot-like situation between communities,” the FIR further stated. 

The FIR was filed by Arpit Mishra, a resident of Noida, at the sector-20 police station, under section 154 of the CrPC.  

Also read: The January 26 Violence Was a Result of Police Incompetence, Negligence and Chaos by Design

The politicians and journalists have been charged under the following sections of the IPC: 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, etc), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reli­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reli­gious beliefs), 298 (uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation), 502 (sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter), 124A (sedition), 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and section 66 of the Information Technology Act (66 computer-related offences). 

All of them have been booked for tweeting about one protestor who had died at ITO crossing on January 26. The tweets insinuated that the farmer was shot dead by Delhi Police during the tractor rally. Later, Delhi Police had released the CCTV footage of the event and said that he had died in an accident instead when he lost balance and his tractor overturned. 

It is interesting to note, as a news report pointed out, the case has been filed in UP, although the jurisdiction for the case would be Delhi. According to a legal expert, as cited by the News Minute, since the sections used are cognizable offences, the UP police may be trying to show that the case can be filed anywhere and will then be transferred to the jurisdictional police.

On the same day, the Bhopal Police also registered a case against the same persons, under Section 153 (promoting enmity) of the IPC. The case was registered on the basis of a complaint which accused their action of sharing ‘false and misleading tweets’ during the farmers’ rally of leading to ‘grave threat to the security of the nation’, according to the Times of India.

On Friday, the police in Guragon lodged a similar FIR based on the complaint of one Pankaj.

The Editor’s Guild of India criticised the two police forces for registering cases against journalists, saying they were reporting “all the details as they emerged”.

“The FIRs allege that the tweets were intentionally malicious and were the reason for the desecration of the Red Fort. Nothing can be further from the truth. On a day thick with information, the EGI finds these FIRs, filed in different states, as an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media. That the FIRs have been booked under as many as ten different provisions including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs, is further disturbing,” the Guild said.

The Delhi Union of Journalists also demanded the immediate withdrawal of the cases against the journalists. “We reiterate our demand for a special law to protect media persons from arbitrary charges, arrests and prosecution for doing their job. We urge the repeal of draconian laws including the law on sedition,” it said.

The Union also expressed concerns about the attempted break-in at journalist Neha Dixit’s home, demanding the prosecution of the guilty.

The farmers’ march

On January 26, the farmers protesting against the three agriculture laws took out a tractor rally led by several farmers’ leaders, including Rakesh Tikait, Darshan Pal and Gurnam Singh Chaduni. Clashes broke out between the police and protesters during the tractor march, in which more than 300 police personnel were injured.

The Caravan had, in a series of tweets, claimed that an eyewitness had said that he saw the police firing at the late protester. It read, “An eyewitness told The Caravan that he saw the police firing from behind the grills of the Andhra Education Society.” The tweets have not been deleted or retracted so far by The Caravan

Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai in his tweet had said, “One person, 45-year-old Navneet killed allegedly in police firing at ITO. Farmers tell me: the ‘sacrifice’ will not go in vain.”

However, minutes after the police video was released, Sardesai retracted his statement and said, “While the farm protestors claim that the deceased Navneet Singh was shot at by Delhi Police while on a tractor, this video clearly shows that the tractor overturned while trying to break the police barricades. The farm protestors’ allegations don’t stand. Post mortem awaited.”

Also read: Here’s What Really Happened During the Republic Day Tractor Rally

Added to that, he had also spoken about this CCTV footage in at least two shows ran by India Today, The Wire has found. Zafar Agha’s tweet on the matter could not be traced. 

India Today on Thursday decided to take its anchor Sardesai off air for two weeks and deducted his one month salary for the tweet. 

The police have also booked at least 37 farmer leaders in an FIR in connection with the violence during the tractor parade. Several had been detained too. 

“The claim that police deliberately shot a person dead can cause a feeling of fear and insecurity among various communities, and it can become a threat to national unity in such sensitive times. The tweets have been forwarded to a large number of people, and it has caused an adverse effect on the law and order situation in the country. Therefore, it is necessary to remove the misleading tweets,” the FIR stated.

The News Minute spoke to the complainant Mishra, who said, “I have noticed that all these people have spread rumours. At the time when the Republic Day parade was going on they have said that someone has fired a bullet at an innocent man and actually in the post mortem report it was confirmed that it was due to the accident of the tractor. All the people I have complained against have spread this rumour on social media platforms and on live television as well.”

However, he added, that he did not expect that a case of sedition would be filed against them.

Note: This article was first published at 12:47 am on January 29, 2021 and updated to include details of the case registered by the Madhya Pradesh police.