The Editors Guild of India on Monday called for an independent court-monitored inquiry into the arrest of Agra journalist Gaurav Bansal. On March 15, the police arrested him for reporting on alleged electoral malpractices in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.

In a statement, the association demanded that Bansal should be released from custody immediately. “The Guild is deeply concerned that penal laws are ever so often used as tools to harass and intimidate journalists from freely reporting on sensitive issues,” it said.

Bansal works for Hindi newspaper Punjab Kesari, HW News Hindi reported.

The Editors Guild expressed concern about Bansal’s allegation that the police had tortured him in custody. “He was given third degree torture and humiliated by police officers,” the journalist’s lawyer Adhar Sharma told The Indian Express. “They beat him up mercilessly all night.”

Meanwhile, the police have charged Bansal under penal laws for obstructing a government officer from discharging his duty, the association said. “EGI also urges the state government to ensure that the rights of media are protected and journalists are not harassed from doing their job fearlessly,” the statement added.

The arrest

The police claimed that the 39-year-old journalist had gone to a counting centre on March 8 and alleged that the electronic voting machines, or EVMs, were being replaced during the Assembly elections, The Indian Express reported.

“Bansal was creating nuisance days before counting [of votes],” Etmaddaula station house officer Satya Dev Sharma alleged. “He has multiple prior cases against him.”

Bansal was later booked on charges of misbehaving with the police officers outside the counting centre. However, his lawyer denied all the charges.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday took to Twitter and shared a video of Bansal trembling inside the police station.

“Journalists across the country come together against this harassment,” Yadav wrote, adding that the ruling BJP government was trying to suppress the voice of journalists. He also called for an immediate inquiry into the matter.