The Editors Guild of India on Friday issued a statement condemning the “high-handed” and “arbitrary” police action against journalists in line of duty during the ongoing countrywide lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. “Such action is self-defeating when media freedoms are critically important for covering the outbreak and the state response,” the statement said.

The statement comes amid reports of police assaulting journalists out on duty during the 21-day countrywide lockdown that came into effect on Wednesday. The bureau chief of The Hindu alleged that he was abused and “held by his neck” in his car while he was on his way back home, News Laundry reported. Meanwhile, in Noida, an Aaj Tak journalist alleged that the police took away his car keys, wallet and phone, bundled him into a van, and beat him.

The guild said that under these extraordinary circumstances, it is the role of law enforcement agencies to facilitate journalists and not to obstruct them from doing their job of reporting about the pandemic.`“The State and Union Territory governments and the police also need to be reminded that media has been exempted as an essential service under the current lockdown guidelines of the Union Home Ministry,” the statement added.

While urging the government to let the media “play its role as smoothly as possible”, it demanded that a system of regular media briefings at the ministerial level be put in place to ensure communication during the outbreak “as it doesn’t give the media adequate opportunity to ask questions”.

India entered the third day of the lockdown on Friday, which is an attempt to break the chain of infection. Several instances of police officials allegedly punishing or assaulting people out on streets, or tipping over vegetable carts, have emerged from several states during the first two days of the 21-day lockdown.

The Patna Police in Bihar arrested three police officials for shooting at a driver of a vehicle carrying potatoes, and demanding a bribe of Rs 5,000. In central Delhi’s Ranjit Nagar area, a police constable was seen overturning vegetable carts, and bullying the sellers for violating lockdown guidelines.

Meanwhile, the police in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday apologised after a video of an official, making people crawl as punishment for being out during lockdown in Budaun town, began doing the rounds. “Being the police chief of the district, I feel sorry and apologise for this,” Ashok Kumar Tripathi, senior superintendent of police, Budaun said, according to ANI. Tripathi said an inquiry had been initiated against the official involved.

The toll in the coronavirus pandemic rose to 17 in India and the number of patients increased to 724, according to the Union Health Ministry latest update. This includes those who have recovered and 640 active cases.