The Gujarat Police on Tuesday arrested journalist Aakar Patel for posting allegedly offensive content against a particular community on Twitter. Patel told Scroll.in that he was arrested but not detained as he was granted anticipatory bail.
The complaint was filed based on a first information report registered in July against him in Surat city by a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA identified as Purneshbhai Ishwarbhai Modi. According to the FIR, the BJP MLA is listed as a social worker and the chief of Gujarat’s Modh-Modi community.
“I was questioned between noon and about 6.30 pm [on Tuesday],” Patel said. “I will consult my lawyer to move to quash the case.”
In his complaint, the BJP MLA alleged that Patel purposefully used his Twitter account to provoke communal animosity, and claimed that the journalist also defamed the Hindu-Ghanchi community with the intention of insulting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s caste.
The case relates to three tweets posted by Patel between June 24 to June 27. In his first tweet, Patel claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi belonged to a community that was categorised as Other Backward Classes, or OBC by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Hours later he posted another tweet stating that Muslims in Godhra, Gujarat, who were accused of attacking the Sabarmati Express in 2002, also belonged to the same community.
In his third tweet, Patel accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of profiting from a “cycle of violence” against other Indians, especially Muslims.
Modi pointed out that the Bengaluru Police had filed a case against Patel in June for allegedly posting objectionable comments about the killing of an African American man named George Floyd in police custody in the United States. Floyd’s killing had triggered huge protests in the US. In his tweet, Patel had allegedly urged people to protest peacefully against police brutality in the wake of the Floyd’s death. Many people had responded to his tweet and sought police action against him.
“He has tweeted messages with the intention of spreading racial hatred and chaos in society, and to defame the current and former prime ministers,” BJP MLA Modi alleged in his complaint. “On June 24 and June 27, he tweeted defamatory content about the prime minister and all Teli-Ghanchi people, as well as against former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee as well as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP.”
Modi also attached Patel’s allegedly objectionable tweets in his complaint, claiming one of them said that Muslims accused in the 2002 Godhra train burning case were from Ghanchi community.
The complainant went on to list all the various Hindu surnames that come from the Teli-Ghanchi caste and said: “My caste is Hindu-Ghanchi, which is completely different from Muslim Ghanchis. We follow the Hindu religion and we have nothing to do with the Muslim Ghanchis who were involved in the Godhra kaand [incident]. By tweeting that the accused in the Godhra kaand come from the same community as PM Modi, he was intentionally trying to create communal hatred between Hindus and Muslims and shatter all the systems of the country. It has hurt the sentiments of people from the Teli-Ghanchi community and caused us physical and mental damage.”
On Wednesday, Patel tweeted that he was told to hand in all his devices next week for examination by the Forensic Science Laboratory. “Will be available only [on] email till I get them back,” he added.
The journalist, who is also the former executive director of human rights advocacy group Amnesty International, was charged under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”.
Besides this, the FIR against Patel mentions charges under Section 295A, for “acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”, with “deliberate and malicious” intent. He has also been charged under Section 505(1)(b) for spreading false and mischievous content that results in “fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquillity”.
This is the second FIR against Patel in connection with his tweets. In June, he had posted some video clips of the protests against George Floyd’s killing. In his tweets, he had asked Muslims, Dalit, Adivasis and women in India to stage similar protests against their conditions. A week after the Bengaluru Police filed a case, Twitter had blocked Patel’s account in India for violating Indian laws.
In the first FIR, Patel was booked under sections 505 (1) (b) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or public tranquility), 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 117 (abetting commission of an offence by the public or by more than ten persons) of the Indian Penal Code by the Bengaluru Police.