The Editors Guild of India on Monday demanded the release of journalist Mandeep Punia, who was arrested on Saturday while covering the clashes at the farmers’ protest site at Singhu border. The association said that Punia’s arrest was an attempt to muzzle the voices of independent journalists who were busting fake news.
Punia, a freelancer and contributor to Caravan magazine, was accused of abusing a station house officer on duty at Singhu. On Sunday, a court in Delhi rejected his bail plea petition and sent him to judicial custody for 14 days. Another journalist – Dharmender Singh from Online News India – was also picked up by the police but was released on Sunday morning.
The Editors Guild expressed concern over the action against Punia. “The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned over the incarceration of freelance journalist Mandeep Punia who was reporting on the farm protest from Singhu border,” the association said in a statement. “Punia’s arrest is an attempt to muzzle young courageous voices of independent journalists that through reporting are busting fake news and speaking truth to power.”
The association added: “EGI demands that Mandeep Punia be released forthwith and Delhi Police restore circumstances in which media can report without fear or favour.”
Journalists in the Capital have also been demanding Punia’s release. On Sunday, they staged a protest in front of the new police headquarters in Patel Chowk area.
Several states have also registered cases against journalists who have reported on the death of the farmer on January 26. 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.
NBA demands quashing of FIRs against journalists
The News Broadcasters Association on Monday condemned the first information reports against the senior editors and journalists. “NBA is of the opinion that both the print and electronic media have been covering the farmers’ protests on the outskirts of Delhi in a fair, balanced and objective manner,” a statement said. “To construe the reporting on one incident as an intent on the part of the journalists to incite violence or as an offence is like shooting the messenger.”
The association also criticised the provisions under which the FIRs have been filed in different states, pointing out that it ranges from sedition, to harming national integrity and promoting communal disharmony.
“Weaponising archaic laws such as sedition to stifle journalists negates the founding principles of our democracy that recognises the rights of news media to report without fear or favour,” it added. “Laws such as sedition are also increasingly being used to impede the functioning of a free press. The targeting of journalists is an attack on press freedom and severely impairs the media’s ability to perform its journalistic duties as an independent watchdog of our democracy.”
It demanded the quashing of the FIRs against journalists and said they should be allowed to perform their duties without fear.
The situation at Delhi’s border points, where farmers demanding the repeal of the agricultural laws have been camping for over two months, has been tense after the violence at the Republic Day tractor rally. The Centre has extended the ban on internet services near the Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders till Tuesday night.
On Friday, a group of around 200 people claiming to be local residents threw stones at farmers at the Singhu border and damaged their tents. Fact-checking website Alt News also identified Bharatiya Janata Party supporters among the mob. One of them was Aman Dabas, who is married to BJP municipal councillor Anju Kumar.
The farmers’ tractor rally on Republic Day turned chaotic after a section of protestors deviated from the routes agreed to with the Delhi Police. One protestor was killed in the clashes. Prominent farmer unions and leaders distanced themselves from the violence, and blamed it on certain “anti-social elements”.
The Delhi Police have arrested 84 people and filed 38 first information reports filed so far in connection with the violence. Some farmers leaders have also been named in the FIRs.