Three journalists at The Caravan have been asked by the Delhi Police to join an investigation against them in a case that was lodged four years ago, unbeknownst to them and the magazine’s management.

The three journalists – Prabhjit Singh, Shahid Tantray and their female colleague – had been attacked by a mob in North East Delhi’s Subhash Mohalla neighbourhood while they were reporting a story on August 11, 2020.

The journalists had filed a police report after the assault. It has only recently come to light that the Bhajanpura Police Station had around the same time also registered a first information report against them in a separate case.

The Caravan on Saturday said that while no action had been taken on the first information report pertaining to the assault of its journalists, the Delhi Police have accused them in a “false and fabricated” case lodged at the same police station.

The journalists have been booked for allegedly outraging the modesty of a woman and promoting communal enmity.

On August 11, 2020, Singh, Tantray and their colleague were covering the communal tensions that had broken out in an area of North East Delhi on the night of August 5, 2020, after the foundation-laying ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

In his complaint to the police, Singh said that had he not intervened, Tantray would have been beaten to death by the mob as he is a Muslim.

The Delhi Police had also not informed the three staffers of the first information report that was filed against them in 2020, The Caravan said on Saturday. It was only last month when the Bhajanpura Police Station sent a notice to Singh to join an investigation related to the incident that he found out about the first information report.

“We have learnt that the FIR against our staffers was lodged less than an hour before our FIR on the same day in 2020,” The Caravan said. “It is worth noting here that although our complaints were filed on the day of the incident itself, the police did not register our FIR until three days later, on 14 August 2020.”

The magazine said that the Delhi Police had not provided it with a certified copy of the first information report citing its “sensitive nature”.

“Put together, these details make clear that the naming of The Caravan’s journalists in a false and fabricated case is an attempt to muzzle their reporting,” the magazine said. “This is an outright attack on press freedom and a direct violation of the freedom of speech and expression.”

Press Council of India ‘strongly condemns’ the FIR

The Press Council of India strongly condemned the first information report against the journalists.

“Instead of holding the attackers to account, the Delhi Police not only delayed the registration of the FIR but has taken forward an investigation against the journalists instead,” the press body said. “The details of the FIR against the journalists are completely counter to the facts of the incident, which were widely reported by the media.”

The Press Council of India also found it “extremely concerning” that the police did not inform The Caravan of the first information report for four years.

“We call on the Delhi Police to carry out its duty fairly and without bias, to halt the FIR against the journalists and to properly investigate the FIR by the Caravan journalists,” it said. “We also call on the Delhi High Court to monitor the investigations so that power is not misused to attack press freedom.”