The Calcutta High Court on Thursday granted bail to Republic Bangla journalist Santu Pan, who was arrested by the West Bengal Police in Sandeshkhali, reported PTI.

Justice Kausik Chanda also ordered a stay on further proceedings in the case registered against the journalist at the Sandeshkhali police station

Pan was arrested on Monday on allegations of trespassing and outraging the modesty of a woman, reported The Indian Express. The police claimed that Pan had barged into a woman’s home while he was reporting from Sandeshkhali, following which she filed a complaint.

The journalist was in Sandeshkhali to report on the allegations of sexual assault and land grabbing against Trinamool Congress leader Shahjahan Sheikh and two of his close aides.

His arrest was condemned on Tuesday by the Editors Guild of India, which described Pan’s detainment as “worrisome”. It stated that the police should indeed investigate if such allegations had been levelled against Pan, “but to take him away while he is reporting is indeed a cause for concern”.

“The Editors Guild calls on the administration in West Bengal to conduct a speedy inquiry and ensure that no injustice is done to Mr Pan,” the guild had said. “The government must also do everything it can to protect freedom of the press.”

The arrest had also attracted sharp reactions from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is part of the Opposition in West Bengal.

Sukanta Majumdar, the party’s West Bengal unit chief, took to social media to say that the action was a “direct attack on the fourth pillar of democracy”.

Sandeshkhali case

The Sandeshkali village in the North 24 Parganas district has been at the centre of a political row for nearly a month. The village has witnessed unprecedented protests by women regarding several allegations of sexual assault against Sheikh and his associates, Shiba Prasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar.

On February 8, women in Sandeshkhali held protests demanding that Sheikh, Hazra and Sardar be immediately arrested.

Sheikh has been absconding since January 5, when officials of the Enforcement Directorate were assaulted in Sandeshkhali while they were carrying out raids in connection with an alleged ration distribution scam. A mob allegedly attacked them with stones, bricks and batons when they had arrived at the Trinamool leader’s home.

Women from the area subsequently alleged that Sheikh and his associates used to survey homes in the village, looking for young women whom they would take to the party office and sexually assault.

The protesting women on February 9 burnt down three poultry farms owned by Hazra, which they claimed were built on land forcibly grabbed from locals.

The next day, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which bans the assembly of four of more persons, was imposed in different pockets of Sandeshkhali. Internet shutdown was ordered in 16 panchayats.

Sardar was arrested the same day, hours after being suspended by the Trinamool Congress for six years.

On February 13, the Calcutta High Court quashed the order imposing restrictions under Section 144 but ordered the deployment of additional armed police personnel in the area

Hazra was arrested on February 17, a day after the West Bengal Police added sections 376D (gangrape) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the Indian Penal Code to the first information report against him and Sardar.