Press bodies have condemned the arrest of journalist Kishor Ram by the Uttarakhand Police and demanded that he be released immediately.

Ram, a journalist working for local news portal Janjwar, was arrested on February 24 under Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc) of the Indian Penal Code.

The police registered a first information report against the journalist for his reporting on two incidents – one on the death of a Dalit youth on February 13 and another on the alleged rape of two Dalit minor girls on February 18 – according to Janjwar.

In a statement on Thursday, the Editors Guild of India expressed concern about Ram’s arrest and said that he had been reporting on matters related to marginalised classes and lower castes for a while.

It said that Ram interviewed the family members of the deceased youth and the girls and uploaded their videos on the news portal. The guild said that the police have accused Ram of “asking caste of people” from the family members and speaking about the “killing of people belonging to SC by upper caste people”.

The press body said that it was “extremely distressing” that reporting on matters that could be caste-based crimes were being used as grounds for arrest.

“The Editors Guild demands immediate release of Kishore Ram and urges the state administration and the law enforcement agencies to not use penal laws as tools of intimidation against journalists’ right to report on societal and caste based issues,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement issued on Tuesday that the arrest of Ram and Jammu and Kashmir-based journalist Fahad Shah “show India’s escalating intolerance toward journalists who are simply doing their jobs”.

“Authorities must immediately release Shah and Ram, drop any investigations into their journalistic work, and create a safe and free atmosphere for journalists to report the news,” it said.

Shah is the editor-in-chief of news portal The Kashmir Walla, who is in jail on charges under Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.

The journalist was earlier arrested on February 4 for posting allegedly anti-national content on social media. Shah was granted bail after 22 days by a National Investigation Agency court. However, he was arrested again on February 26 hours after getting bail.

Kishor Ram’s arrest

Besides allegations of promoting enmity between different groups, the police have also accused Ram of extorting money by manufacturing fake news, reported The Indian Express.

Pithoragarh Superintendent of Police Lokeshwer Singh alleged that it was not the first time that Ram had levelled “false allegations” and extorted money from people.

“The man is not a journalist and has no identification to prove otherwise,” Singh said. “He generally raises issues related to caste and we have found at least eight such cases where he raised issues by posting videos to extort money from people.”

Citing the incident of the alleged rape, the police officer said that Ram interviewed one of the girl’s father and posted the video revealing his identity. Singh said that the journalist asked the man his caste and “made that an issue”.

“When we came to know about this, we talked to the girls and they denied any such incident,” he claimed. “We then talked to the father and he confessed that Kishor convinced him to make the allegations in exchange for Rs 3 lakh. We then found at least eight similar cases in which Kishor had spread fake news.”

Janjwar Editor and owner Ajay Prakash told The Indian Express that the videos posted by the news portal did not promote enmity and Ram was just doing his job. Prakash called the arrest as an incident of “police brutality” and said that the media was being oppressed.

In the alleged rape case, Ram had alleged, citing the girl’s father, that two men had lured his 15-year-old daughter and her 17-year-old cousin into their car on the pretext of taking them on a ride but allegedly sexually assaulted them. The men then dropped the girls on a highway.

“When I asked for administration to conduct an inquiry, they did not take any action,” Janjwar reported, quoting the girl’s father. “Now that I have come here [to the police] myself, I am also being treated as if I have committed some crime.”

Senior police officials, however, claimed that they had not received any complaint on the alleged rape incident and have not also not registered any FIR.

In the second case, the family members of the deceased youth identified as Rami Ram have accused a person named Rajendra Singh Deupa of killing him, according to Janjwar. They claimed that Deupa crushed Ram to death. Ram’s wife also alleged that Deupa got her husband killed as he was a Congress supporter.