Congress leader P Chidambaram on Thursday attacked the Uttar Pradesh government after the state police registered a first information report against an editor of news website The Wire, for allegedly spreading fake news related to Chief Minister Adityanath’s comments about the coronavirus pandemic. Chidambaram called the FIR a “deplorable act”, intended to suppress media freedom.
The FIR was filed based on the complaint of Nitish Kumar Shrivastav, a resident of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. In his complaint, Shrivastav said: “The Wire editor on his blog, with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public, publicised the following message: ‘On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Yogi Adityanath insisted that a large fair planned for Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navami from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual while Acharya Paramhans said that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’.”
The complainant said this amounted to “an objectionable comment” against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath, “which has caused anger among people”. The FIR did not name the editor.
The complaint was probably referring to The Wire’s Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan, who had posted an article published on the site on Twitter on Tuesday, March 31. In the tweet, he wrongly attributed the quote that “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus” to Adityanath.
“UP government has filed an FIR against @thewire_in for carrying a story containing facts and only facts,” Chidambaram said on Thursday. “No ‘fact’ is wrong or even alleged to be wrong. Where is the crime? The FIR is a deplorable act intended to suppress freedom of the media. The FIR must be withdrawn immediately.”
Adityanath’s media advisor, Mrityunjay Kumar, had asked Varadarajan to delete the tweet. However, Varadarajan posted a clarification, correctly attributing the quote to Acharya Paramhans, the head of the Ayodhya temple trust. But Kumar later said on Twitter that action had been taken against Varadarajan since he had neither deleted the tweet nor apologised.
Late on Wednesday, The Wire tweeted out a statement saying that the FIR was a “blatant attack on the freedom of the press” and was “aimed at stifling legitimate expression and factual information”.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare said on Thursday that 2,069 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in India, of which 53 patients have died, 155 have been cured or discharged from hospital, and one has migrated.