media freedom

Journalist Vinod Verma asks how police found him within hours of an FIR that didn’t name him

He spent two months in jail after being arrested in October 2017 for allegedly trying to blackmail a Chhattisgarh minister.

Journalist Vinod Verma, who was in jail for two months for allegedly trying to blackmail a minister in Chhattisgarh, has said he was “trying to do some journalism” when the police arrested him in October 2017.

In an interview with The Indian Express, Verma wondered how the police reached his home to arrest him within four hours of the case being filed, even though investigators failed to find evidence against him even two months after his arrest. The case was filed in Raipur, while he was arrested from Ghaziabad.

The journalist was released on January 4, after he got bail because the Central Bureau of Investigation failed to produce a chargesheet within 60 days of his arrest. He said he had been framed, likely because the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Chhattisgarh was uncomfortable with his role as a consultant with the Congress.

The Chhattisgarh Police had claimed to have seized from Verma’s home 500 copies of a CD with sexually explicit content that allegedly features minister Rajesh Munat. The journalist’s counsel accused the police of planting them.

Verma said he had a 93-second video clip featuring the minister, and he was in touch with some top editors to get the story published.

“Because I told them [the editors] that it [the video] was related to a big person, they wanted to see the clip, and this is very much on record,” Verma told The Indian Express. “All call details are there. I gave the CBI the call details of the editors also.”

Timing of arrest

Verma said the CBI “failed to explain” to him how the police managed to arrest him so soon after the case was filed, when the identity of the person charged in the FIR for extortion was not known. The complainant, a BJP worker, had told the police that he had got calls from an unidentified person who threatened to expose his “master”.

“[On October 26 at] 3.30 pm, the FIR is filed in Raipur, and at 7.30 pm, they picked up my guards in Ghaziabad,” he said. “It is a myth that they reached my house at 3 am. It did not take them 11 hours, it took them four hours...Within 60 days, it is not difficult for any investigative agency like the police of Raipur city to find out a number from which a call was made.”

The journalist said the Ghaziabad Police initially did not let him change his clothes when they went to arrest him at 3 am on October 27. He claimed he finally changed his clothes in the presence of a police officer.

Verma said that apart from his role with the Congress, other reasons that could have put him on the BJP’s radar could be his fact-finding role on the harassment of journalists, or his work in collecting evidence on matters such as a bye-election allegedly being rigged.

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