UP: 3 Journalists Arrested for Reporting on Paper Leak Case as Attack on Press Freedom Continues

Two journalists from Hindi daily 'Amar Ujala' even claimed that during their arrests, the police manhandled their colleagues and vandalised their office.

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Gorakhpur: Days after the Uttar Pradesh Board Class 12 English exam paper was leaked in Ballia district, the police have arrested three local journalists who reported the incident.

On March 30, the question paper for the Intermediate English exam was leaked and copies of the solved paper went viral on the internet, following which the exam was cancelled in 24 districts.

Ballia’s District Inspector of Schools (DIoS) Brajesh Kumar Mishra was suspended and later arrested in the matter. So far, a total of 34 people have been arrested in connection with the incident, including three scribes – Ajit Kumar Ojha, Digvijay Singh and Manoj Gupta.

To protest against the police action, several local journalists held a demonstration outside the Ballia police station. Many political leaders have also condemned the arrest of the journalists.

Two of these journalists – Ojha and Singh – are affiliated with Hindi daily Amar Ujala and have issued a statement about their arrest on social media.

In his statement, Singh wrote that he reports from Ballia district’s Nagra for Amar Ujala and is also the Block President of the National Union of Journalists (India).

He added that on March 29 he received a copy of the solved question paper for the Class 12 Sanskrit examination from his sources and immediately reported the same to his newspaper’s office. The story was published by the daily, followed by another report published the next day about Class 12 English question paper leak. Singh claimed that he was merely performing his journalistic duties, yet he was arrested along with another scribe (Ojha).

Singh also accused the police and the administration of harassment and alleged that the police action against the journalists is only an attempt to cover up the failure of the administration to stop copies of leaked papers from being circulated in the Nagra, Bhimpura and Belthara areas.

In his statement, Ojha, a Ballia-based correspondent who covers news related to the Education Department, confirmed that Amar Ujala first broke the news of Class 12 Sanskrit question paper leak, followed by another report on English exam question paper leak based on his coverage of the incident after he received solved papers, which had already gone viral online.

Ojha said that when he asked the district administration and the DIoS for a comment, they did not furnish a satisfactory response. Later, the district magistrate (DM) and DIoS contacted him and asked for copies of the leaked question papers on WhatsApp, which he forwarded to both the officers.

Also read: Rajasthan: Cheating, Paper Leaks in Govt Exams Put Aspirants’ Lives at Stake

Soon after, Ballia police personnel reached his office while he was at work on March 30 and arrested him. Ojha alleged that while arresting him, the policemen vandalised the office and manhandled his colleagues.

Ojha added that he was made to sit in the Ballia police station for several hours. On receiving the news of his detention, a large number of journalists gathered outside the station and staged a protest against his arrest.

At the police station, the officer in-charge told the reporters that Ojha had been detained on the instructions of the superintendent of police (SP), while the SP passed the buck on to the government, claiming that he had acted on orders from above.

Meanwhile, in a post on Twitter, the Ballia Police said, “Ajit Ojha is an assistant teacher at a Higher Secondary School in Haripur Jigani, District Ballia and also works as a correspondent. He has been arrested on the basis of a complaint received, anticipatory investigative proceedings are in force.”

“The above person has been arrested and sent to jail on the basis of the evidence obtained in the investigation so far,” the Ballia Police stated in another tweet. “One of his associates he has named is an assistant teacher in another school and is presently an invigilator in a secondary school examination.”

A first information report (FIR) was registered against the DIoS, Ojha and others on the basis of a complaint by City Magistrate Pradeep Kumar at the Ballia police station. The accused were charged under Indian Penal Code Section 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property); Uttar Pradesh Public Examination Act, 1998 Sections 4 (unauthorised possession and disclosure of question papers), 5 (leakage by a person entrusted with examination work), and 10 (penalty for leakage); and Section 66B of the IT Act (dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device).

The FIR reads, “On March 30, the information about the English question paper of the Board of Secondary Education, Prayagraj, being leaked, went viral on social media. A report on this matter was published in the newspaper. District School Inspectors are the officers responsible for conducting examinations and are also the custodians for the maintenance and distribution of question papers. Also note that this information is suspected to have been leaked/ gone viral from the phone of teacher Ajit Ojha, posted in Haripur Gadwar, and unknown persons.”

“As soon as the information about the leaked paper went viral,” the FIR goes on, “students created a ruckus and began sloganeering at exam centres, which could have disturbed the law and order situation. The exam was also interrupted. In connection with the above, register an FIR against all the responsible officers including the District School Inspector, teacher Ajit Ojha and unknown persons. Also, register an FIR and take appropriate action against unknown persons involved in the scandal with the intention of reaping monetary gains. Ajit Ojha is a teacher in Haripur Inter College and also a correspondent/journalist in a newspaper.”

Also read: Gujarat Police Finally Orders Probe After Ninth Exam Paper Leak in Seven Years

Another journalist, Manoj Gupta from Nagra in Ballia, has also been arrested in the same case.

Local journalists in Ballia echoed Ojha’s claim that a solved Class 12 English question paper, at an exam centre in Malipur, which falls under the Nagra police station’s jurisdiction, went viral on social media. Many journalists also received it and a local portal published a report on it, following which the news spread. However, they allege that the administration is targeting journalists instead of taking action against the mafia who leaked the question papers.

So far, no statement has been issued from Amar Ujala on the arrest of two of its scribes. While a report in the newspaper did mention the names of the arrested, it did not state that Ojha and Singh are employees of the organisation.

Meanwhile, the Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA from Bairia, Jai Prakash Anchal, and former MLA Surendra Singh, have condemned the arrest of journalists in the paper leak case.

According to Amar Ujala, Surendra Singh said, “This act is highly condemnable. It is the duty of a journalist to expose any matter that comes to his notice. If the police take action against them for doing their duty, it is condemnable.”

Similarly, SP MLA Anchal said, “Journalism is the fourth pillar of democracy. If a journalist comes across any piece of information, his job is to make it available in the public domain. He informed the administration when he came to know about the incident. Such an action should not have been taken.”

Earlier, Agra-based journalist Gaurav Bansal (39) was arrested for allegedly reporting rigging in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. Bansal alleged that he was arrested while he was asleep at home, at around 1 am on the night of March 24. He alleged that he was brutally thrashed by the police before being produced in the court the next morning.

Bansal had gone to Mandi Samiti to report after some videos of protesting SP had gone viral. Bansal was booked by the police on March 9, under IPC Sections 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt), 353 (assault or criminal force to prevent public servant from discharging his duty), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), as well as under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.

The Editors Guild of India has demanded a court-monitored independent inquiry into the arrest of Gaurav Bansal. The organisation said in its statement, “The Editors Guild of India is shocked by the way Agra-based journalist Gaurav Bansal was arrested and allegedly tortured for reporting alleged rigging in the recently held assembly elections.”

(Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman)