DigiPub News India Foundation, an 11-member digital-only news association, on Monday condemned a First Information Report that named multimedia website Mojo Story, for allegedly spreading “fake” stories about suspected poisoning of three Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh.

On Sunday, the police in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao district registered the FIR against eight Twitter handles, including that of Mojo Story. The FIR also named the handles @NilimDutta, @BhimSenaChief, @jajagranlive, @SurajKrBaudh, @Abhaykumarazad97, @Rahuldiwkr and @VijayAmbedkarUP. It was filed under under Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and Section 66 of the Information Technology Act.

“What is most outrageous is that the FIR by Unnao police is a clear and deliberate attempt at muzzling journalists and keeping them from doing their jobs,” a DigiPub statement said, pointing out that Mojo Story was being penalised for reporting what families of the victims told their reporter.

Mojo Story had called the FIR a “blatant case of harassment and intimidation” and defended its coverage of the incident.

DigiPub, in its statement, mentioned Mojo Story’s stand on the matter. “The platform has also called out the police for clubbing them with politicians who had suggested falsely that the girls had been raped,” DigiPub said, adding that Mojo Story had denied that it reported anything such. The statement also pointed out that Mojo Story was not provided with a copy of the FIR, without which it cannot file an appeal for legal intervention in the case.

The incident in question took place Unnao’s in Babuhara village on Wednesday when the girls had gone to get fodder for their cattle. Their family members found them lying in their field in an unconscious state after they did not return by evening, the police said. Doctors declared the two girls dead on arrival at a nearby hospital.

The online media body said the FIR was part of a “pattern to stop journalists from reporting”, which needs to be identified by the Uttar Pradesh and Central government. Mentioning the proceedings against journalist Siddique Kappan under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the statement said that it was “no way for a responsible and a mature democracy to function”.

“The news media that DigiPub represents will not be intimidated and prevented from reporting the truth, however inconvenient it may be for anyone,” the statement read.

Kappan was arrested along with three others in October while he was on his way to cover the Hathras gangrape and murder case. The Uttar Pradesh Police later booked him and others under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and charges of sedition.

Congress criticises FIR

Meanwhile, the Congress too criticised the government for booking its leaders and journalists on the matter, PTI reported. The party’s chief spokesperson and General Secretary Randeep Surjewala alleged the Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh targets the media and political leaders rather than going after the perpetrators of various crimes. He also demanded that the “politically motivated” FIRs be withdrawn immediately.

The police had booked Congress leader Udit Raj for allegedly spreading fake news that the teenaged girls were raped, and that their bodies were cremated against the will of the family.

Commenting on the police action, Surjewala on Monday said: “The FIR filed against Udit Raj, a media portal [Mojo Story] and some individuals is a clear cut instance of strangulating democracy by the BJP and its leaders.”