Arrest of Senior Journalist Vinod Verma Is Reminiscent of the Emergency

Verma was arrested in the middle of the night merely at the behest of a state government. It is an alarming sign.

The arrest of senior journalist Vinod Verma from his home in Ghaziabad on October 27 is a blatant interference in professional journalism besides being a human rights violation. When you barge into a journalist’s house at 3 am and arrest him in front of his family without any warrant, it is a clear example of authoritarianism.

For hours, the journalist was held at the police station and interrogated. Meanwhile, he was not even allowed to freely speak to his lawyers. When several journalists and editors reached the police station to meet him, the police refused to allow them to see or even talk to him.

Such police action was last practiced either during the British era or during the Emergency in the post-independence era, when civil rights activists, intellectuals, writers and journalists used to be picked up on the government’s orders and put behind bars.

Today, I see it happening yet again. It is quite shocking that a journalist who spent several years with an organisation like the BBC, was the digital editor at Amar Ujala and has worked for Deshbandhu newspaper besides contributing to several other reputed newspapers and forums, is being painted as a dreaded criminal or felon. All this because he is allegedly involved in a sting operation against a leader of a particular political party and minister of a certain state government.

The manner in which the Chhattisgarh government dispatched a police team to Delhi to arrest Verma points to a very dangerous and autocratic attitude.

As per the information received so far, the FIR was lodged in Chhattisgarh on Thursday (October 26). The state police swung into action and hastily arrived in Ghaziabad that very day. No investigation was carried out in the matter, nor were any aspects of the case probed. The alleged accused in the matter (Vinod Verma) was not even given the opportunity to narrate his side of the story.

Verma was arrested in the middle of the night merely at the behest of a state government. It is an alarming sign. I believe it is meant as a warning to the rest of the country’s journalists that if they try to write against the government they will meet a similar fate. They can be arrested on dangerous charges assassinating their character and ruining their career. As a journalist, this kind of conduct of the government immensely worries me.

I believe that if Verma did something wrong, a proper investigation ought to have been carried out with due legal process. But the way Verma was arrested in the dead of the night reminds me of a dangerous and despotic trend.

Based on a conversation with Amit Singh.

This article was originally published in The Wire Hindi and has been translated by Naushin Rehman.