The Delhi Police on Sunday evening issued a notice to a journalist working with The Indian Express, a day after the newspaper published an article on the Tablighi Jamaat inquiry that the police said was “factually incorrect...purely conjectural”. The notice, sent to the city editor and the chief reporter of the newspaper, asked the reporter to join the investigation into the Markaz Nizamuddin event from Monday or face legal action that may attract a jail term and a fine.
Thousands of Indians and hundreds of foreigners had attended the Tablighi Jamaat conference held in Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in March. It later emerged as a coronavirus hotspot. After the event, many participants returned home across the country while others travelled to meeting, raising concerns about the scale of the potential spread of infection. On April 5, the health ministry claimed that the religious gathering had pushed up the doubling rate of cases in India to 4.1 days from the estimated 7.4 days.
The notice was sent on the day the newspaper published a report that an audio clip, which was mentioned in the first information report against Markaz Nizamuddin chief Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, may have been doctored. The clip suggested that Kandhalvi had asked Tablighi members to flout physical distancing norms and prohibitory orders put in place to combat Covid-19.
The report had also added a rejoinder from the Delhi Police and a note from The Indian Express, highlighting that the story was based on inputs from sources and a few police officials aware of the inquiry’s proceedings. The report noted that Special Commissioner of Police (Crime) Praveer Ranjan had not responded to the newspaper’s queries.
In the notice, the police have invoked Section 160 (police officer’s power to require attendance of witnesses) of the Code of Criminal Procedure to ask the newspaper’s Special Correspondent Mahendar Singh Manral to appear with “all relevant documents/material required for the purpose of investigation”. He has also been asked to join the inquiry and reveal all the facts related to the Tablighi Jamaat investigation. The notice also cautioned the journalists that they may face legal action under Section 174 (non-attendance in obedience to an order from public servant) of the Indian Penal Code if they fail to comply.
Fake news tips pulled down
Meanwhile, a report from a Union Ministry of Home Affairs think tank on the ways to spot and investigate fake news has been pulled down within a day of being published online, The Indian Express reported. The think tank’s report had referred to the Tablighi Jamaat chief’s alleged audio clip under a section, headlined “fake news and disinformation vectors”. The report had red-flagged the targetting of minorities amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The 40-page guide for law enforcement agencies was uploaded on Saturday and taken down on Sunday from the Bureau of Police Research and Development’s official website.
It highlighted that fake newsmongers “may create voice content” and spread it across social media and added a screenshot with partially hidden words “T… Jama… Leaked Audio on Covid 19 Lockdown”. The screenshot also included the caption: “a voice clip of religious leader who violated lockdown rules that went viral.”
The bureau’s spokesperson Jitendra Yadav told the newspaper, “There are some corrections being made in the booklet. It will be uploaded again after that.”
Corrections and clarifications: This story has been edited to reflect that only the The Indian Express reporter has been asked to join the investigation. The article earlier erroneously mentioned that two journalists were asked to join the inquiry.