New Delhi: A journalist-author was on Sunday arrested by Chennai police on charges of ‘criminally intimidating’ office bearers of the ongoing Chennai Book Fair, a day after he was evicted by the organisers for a ‘controversial book against the government’.
V. Anbazhagan was evicted from his rented stall at the Book Fair on Saturday by the Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI) for “violating rules” and displaying for sale the book Corruption Book of Chennai Corporation, which details alleged corruption in the Chennai Corporation’s Smart City project. According to reports, the book draws on information gleaned from RTI replies to highlight alleged misappropriation of funds by the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government.
According to The Hindu, Anbazhagan was arrested by the Chennai police on charges of “criminally intimidating”, a non-bailable offence. The journalist allegedly threatened office-bearers of BAPASI on Saturday, when the eviction notice was served. A metropolitan magistrate remanded him in judicial custody till January 24.
BAPASI president R.S. Shanmugam wrote in the eviction notice, “You had agreed to abide by rules of BAPASI while being allotted the stall. Selling a book against the government in your stall is a violation of these rules. Hence, we prohibit you from participating in the Book Fair and advise you to immediately vacate the stall.”
However, The Hindu reported that the rule only says banned and pirated books/CDs should not be sold at the fair.
Shanmugam told The News Minute that participants must follow 21 rules. “It is made very clear that a book against the government or banned by the government cannot be displayed. We have the right to censor what content is put up in the stalls,” he said. The news website also reported that the list of rules for stall owners does not disallow the sale of ‘anti-government’ books, only those banned by the government.
The Chennai Press Club has issued a statement supporting Anbazhagan, claiming that BAPASI is under pressure from the government to file a complaint against the journalist. Bharati Tamilan, the Press Club’s secretary, said “It is a direct attack on our freedom of speech if we cannot display books about the government in a book fair. He has paid for the stall and BAPASI cannot censor what content is displayed,” he adds.
According to TNM, BAPASI denied the allegations and says that the complaint was filed as an act of self-protection by its secretary S.K. Murugan, who was allegedly attacked by Anbazhagan.
The Press Club’s secretary claimed that the author-journalist’s arrest is an act of “vendetta” by the AIADMK. He said that Anabazhagan has been on the government’s radar since he revealed alleged corrupt activities.
“They had even slapped the Goondas Act on him and he had been in jail for over 100 days,” Tamilan said, adding, “And every single one of these is a false case.”
According to The Hindu, Anbazhagan was detained under the Goondas Act in May 2017 on various charges, including blackmail, but in August that year, the Madras high court quashed his detention. The court cited the “inordinate delay on the part of government officials in considering representations from his wife seeking his release” as a reason for quashing the detention.
DMK president M.K. Stalin and MMK leader M.H. Jawahirullah condemned the arrest and sought his release.