The Indian Journalists Union on Tuesday condemned the arrest of Tsewang Rigzin, the editor of the Ladakh-based newspaper State Times. Rigzin was arrested based on a police complaint lodged by Bharatiya Janata Party MP Tsering Namgyal from Ladakh.
Last year, during the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Ladakh, Rigzin had filed a first information report against Jammu and Kashmir BJP leader Vikram Singh Randhawa for allegedly bribing journalists at a press meet “to influence the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections” just a day before the polls, The Wire reported.
On September 3, an unidentified member of a Facebook page called Ladakh in Media posted a comment on Namgyal. Subsequently, the police arrested Rigzin on September 5, as he was the administrator of the group. He was immediately granted bail.
Rigzin is the general secretary of the Ladakh Journalists Union, an affiliate of the Indian Journalists Union. On Tuesday, the Indian Journalists Union called Rigzin’s arrest a “blatant attack on freedom of expression”. Union’s president K Sreenivas Reddy called the arrest illegal and arbitrary. He said that the Delhi High Court had in 2016 ruled that the administrator of a social media group could not be held responsible for posts by members.
The union said that it felt that Namgyal was angry with Rigzin for his reportage and social media posts raising matters concerning public welfare. The union demanded that the case against Rigzin be dropped. It also asked Press Council of India Chairperson Justice CK Prasad to take action to protect freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
Rigzin thanked the Indian Journalists Union for their support. “We shall overcome!” he said, sharing the union’s press release on his Facebook account.
Rigzin told The Wire that the police brought the offending post to his notice on September 4. He said he offered to delete it, but was asked not to do so as it would amount to “destruction of evidence”.
“For a place like Ladakh with barely three lakh people, the reach of the Facebook page that I run with around 34,000 members is pretty high,” Rigzin said. “Lot of people follow the page. If something comes on that page, you can say that the whole of Ladakh will get to know about it.”
Rigzin said that he cannot verify in minute detail the credentials of people he admits to the Facebook group. “I can’t ask them for their Aadhaar card, for instance,” he said. “Many members regularly post comments on what is happening in the state, on the page.” Rigzin said he offered the police help in tracing the person who made the post in question, but this was difficult as his Facebook account was locked.
Rigzin said he received another call from the police on September 5. “I was asked to come to the police station regarding the comment of that member,” he said. “There, I was told that they would have to arrest me. I could sense that there was pressure from the top to do so..so I told them to proceed as per the law. I was arrested as a formality and immediately released on bail.”
The journalist said Namgyal could have could have called him instead of filing a complaint with the police.