The Uttar Pradesh Police on Saturday filed a first information report against The Wire’s Founding Editor Siddharth Varadarajan for tweeting an article published on the news website reporting that the farmer who was killed during a tractor rally on Republic Day had died in police firing.
The article, published on Friday, cited the family of Navreet Singh. They rejected the Delhi Police’s claims that the farmer had died after his tractor overturned. The family has alleged that the man was shot.
A case under Indian Penal Code Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief) has been filed in the state’s Rampur district. The FIR was filed on a complaint by one Sanju Turaha, a resident of Rampur district, according to The Print.
The FIR referred to Varadarajan’s tweet from Saturday in which he shared The Wire’s article. It stated that report was presented in a manner which made it seem like the doctor, who conducted the autopsy of the farmer, had confirmed that he died of a bullet injury, reported The Print.
“As a result, Rampur’s people have become resentful, and tension has increased,” it added. “This post certainly seems to be a part of a conspiracy to incite violence with the aim of making an unfair profit by harming the general public.”
In the article, Hardeep Singh Dibdiba, Navreet Singh’s grandfather, claimed that one of the doctors told him about a bullet wound. “We were told by the doctor that they have clearly seen the bullet injury, and then we cremated his body peacefully,” Dibdiba was quoted as saying by The Wire. “But we were cheated, as the [postmortem] report that came out did not say that. The doctor even told me that even though he had seen the bullet injury, he can do nothing as his hands are tied.”
However, the doctors have refuted this. The postmortem analysis, done on January 27 at 2 pm, said that the “cause of death is shock and haemorrhage as a result of ante-mortem head injury”. The Delhi Police has also claimed that this was the cause of death. The Rampur district magistrate also clarified that no other official statement was made from the side of the authorities.
The Wire’s report had included these statements by the police and doctors rejecting the family’s claims.
However, the FIR alleged that the article had wrongly quoted the government medical officer in order to “incite” the general public, reported The Print.
It said that Singh’s postmortem was conducted by three panel doctors and was duly videographed. It added that all the three doctors have denied giving any such statement to anybody. “Despite this, the tweet has not been removed yet,” the FIR stated, adding that post was intended to “disturb peace and law and order” by “intentionally posting provocative posts through social media- Twitter without knowing the right facts”.
Rampur DM had tweeted the article could cause ‘law and order problem’
On Saturday evening, the Rampur district magistrate responded to Varadarajan’s tweet sharing the article. “We ardently request you to please let’s be sticking to facts and facts only,” he wrote. “We hope our request will be sincerely taken up by you.”
The district magistrate also attached a denial note by the three government medical officers who conducted the postmortem, claiming that none of them had spoken to anybody from the media, or made any statement about the autopsy.
In response, Varadarajan informed the DM that The Wire report had been updated to include the official declaration by the three doctors. To this, the DM responded, “Hope you understand your story could cause a law and order problem here. It has already caused tensed situation here. Responsibility?”
Hours later, the FIR was registered in Uttar Pradesh.
Meanwhile, Varadarajan on Sunday morning reacted to the FIR registered against him. “What’s the IPC [Indian Penal Code] provision for ‘malicious prosecution’,” he asked. “Here is the UP Police indulging in it, filing an FIR against me for tweeting about what the grandfather of farmer who was killed in the tractor parade had said on the record!”
In a separate tweet, the journalist wrote: “In UP, it is a crime for media to report statements of relatives of a dead person if they question a postmortem or police version of cause of death.”
Several states have registered cases against journalists who have reported on the death of the farmer on January 26. The Editors Guild of India has described the action as a concerted attempt to “stifle and harass” media.
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 Singh’s death.
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 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.
Farm law protests
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the edge of New 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.
Some protestors 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. Besides the death of one protestor, several others, including 300 Delhi Police personnel were also wounded.
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.
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.