The Mumbai Press Club on Saturday condemned the arrest of ABP correspondent Rahul Kulkarni in connection with a mass protest by migrants in the city last week, calling it a “serious infringement” on the right to freedom of speech.

On April 14, over 1,000 migrant labourers had gathered outside Bandra West station in Mumbai, believing they could travel home by train. Kulkarni was arrested for claiming that Railways would restart operations ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on extension of the lockdown imposed in the country to combat the coronavirus till May 3. The police suspected the journalist’s claim may have prompted the migrants’ gathering at Bandra station.

The press club in a statement made a special appeal to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his government to withdraw the case against the ABP correspondent. The statement said Kulkarni had reported on the possibility of the railways starting a few trains based “on verified internal communications of the railways department”.

“To hold a reporter responsible for something the railways should have clarified, smacks of trying to shift the blame by the state government for its own intelligence failure about the mass protest,” the statement added. “The Mumbai Press Club denounces the arrest and considers it as a serious infringement on the right of freedom of speech and this is nothing but an attack on the freedom of press,” it said.

Demanding that cases against Kulkarni and ABP be immediately withdrawn, the press body said such arrests without a detailed investigation “is an attempt to discourage the media from covering the pandemic fairly.”

Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said last week that the misinformation about commencement of train services was spread using 11 different methods. “The accounts have been tracked, FIRs are being filed and due legal consequences will follow,” he had said. He said that the state government has zero tolerance for rumours.

The Mumbai Police has also arrested Vinay Dubey, a self-proclaimed labour leader who had threatened a mass protest by migrants in the city on April 18. Another FIR was filed against the crowd that gathered at the railway station.

India’s Covid-19 tally as of Sunday morning stood at 15,712 patients, according to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Of these, 12,974 people are being treated while 507 have died. As many as 2,230 people have recovered so far.

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