The Delhi Police on Saturday became the fifth one to file a case against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and six journalists for allegedly sharing unverified news about the death of a protestor during the farmers’ tractor rally on January 26, NDTV reported.
However, unlike the other states, the first information report filed by the Delhi Police does not include charges of sedition.
Besides Tharoor, the police named India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, The Caravan editor Anant Nath and its executive editor Vinod K Jose.
The FIR was lodged on a complaint by advocate Chiranjiv Kumar, a central government lawyer at the Delhi High Court, according to The Indian Express. Kumar’s complaint said that the accused spread fake news about a farmer’s death in Delhi on January 26 by blaming the Delhi Police.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (Central) Jasmeet Singh told The Hindu that based on the complaint, a case under Indian Penal Code Sections 153 (promoting enmity between different groups), 504 (insult with intent to prove breach of peace) and 120 B (criminal conspiracy) was lodged.
The FIR stated that the accused, through their “fake, misleading and wrong” tweets, tried to imply that the death of the farmer was caused by the violence committed by Delhi Police under directions of the Central government, according to The Hindu.
The police said that tweets by the accused were retweeted by others that can “cause mutiny among the ranks of ignorant people, causing panic and violent rebellion, thereby inducing citizens to commit offences against the State or against the public tranquility”.
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In a statement released on Saturday, the Delhi Police said that such “insensitive statements are prejudicial to national integration” in a sensitive situation. “Such messages are forwarded several times causing false narrative and making citizenry ill informed,” the statement added.
The Uttar Pradesh Police was the first to file an FIR against the seven in Noida that includes charges of sedition, followed by a similar case filed by the police in Madhya Pradesh. Other FIRs were registered in Gurugram and Bengaluru on Friday, and in Noida on Thursday.
The FIRs claim that the accused, in a coordinated and well-timed conspiracy, started a misinformation campaign that it was the Delhi Police that shot a protesting farmer. Most of them invoke sections of the Indian Penal Code on sedition, criminal intimidation, promoting enmity, provocation to break public peace, criminal conspiracy, outraging religious feelings, among others.
The FIRs were registered despite criticism from several media bodies. The Editors Guild of India described the action as a concerted attempt to “stifle and harass” media. On Saturday, journalists also assembled at the Press Club of India in Delhi to protest against the FIRs. The meeting was organised by a number of media bodies, including the Editors Guild of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Delhi Union of Journalists, and Indian Journalists Union.
“Today the atmosphere is such, it’s so poisonous, so toxic that anyone who wants to go to the court perhaps is a fool,” Press Club of India President Anand Sahay told PTI. “You know what the result is going to be. Even during the emergency, rules against journalists were not so harsh, I don’t recall anybody going in for sedition.”
Delhi Union of Journalists SK Pande also claimed that the current situation was like an “undeclared emergency”. “What is happening today is a situation which is an undeclared emergency,” he told the news agency. “People have seen what the emergency was, we are heading for something worse, where if you raise the voice against the powers that are you will be targeted whether through sedition, or filing of FIRs so that you lose desire to fight or feel compelled to call it a day.”
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the edge of Delhi for over two months, seeking the repeal of agricultural laws passed in September. The protests had largely been peaceful but violence erupted on January 26, when a tractor rally planned to coincide with Republic Day celebrations turned chaotic.
At least one protester was killed and over 300 police officers were injured as farmers broke through barricades and poured into the city, clashing with the police that tried to push them back with tear gas and a baton-charge.
The Delhi Police said on Saturday that 84 people have been arrested and 38 first information reports filed so far in connection with the violence. Nine of the 22 FIRs filed were transferred to the crime branch of the Delhi Police for investigation.
Several farmer leaders, including Swaraj India President Yogendra Yadav and Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Haryana unit President Gurnam Singh Chaduni, were named in one of the FIRs filed by the police.
The police have alleged that farmer leaders made inflammatory speeches, and were involved in the violence during the tractor parade. Farmers have denied the allegations and blamed “antisocial elements” for the chaos.