The Uttar Pradesh Police have filed a first information report against news website The Wire and two of its journalists for allegedly spreading false information and trying to create religious animosity through a video about the demolition of a mosque in Barabanki district in May, the website said on Friday.

This is the fourth FIR filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police against the news organisation in 14 months.

The Barabanki administration had claimed that the 100-year-old mosque was an illegal residential complex and was demolished on orders from the sub-divisional magistrate’s court. The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board had criticised the decision, calling it an abuse of power.

The Wire uploaded a video documentary on the demolition on Wednesday. In it, members of the mosque’s committee claimed that they had proof that the structure was legal, according to The Hindu.

Barabanki District Magistrate Adarsh Singh claimed the video falsely showed that the police threw religious scriptures of a community into a river after the demolition. “Such an incident did not happen,” he was quoted as saying by The Hindu.

The two journalists named in the FIR were Seraj Ali and Mukul Chauhan. Mohammad Anees, a member of the mosque committee, was also named in the case.

The case was filed under Sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups), 505 (1) (b) (intent to cause or likely to cause fear or alarm among the public), 120 B (criminal conspiracy) and 34 (criminal act done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code, according to the website.

Siddharth Varadarajan, The Wire’s founding editor, described the case as baseless. “The Adityanath government does not believe in media freedom and is criminalising the work of journalists who are reporting what is happening in the state,” he said.

On June 14, a case was filed against The Wire for posts about the assault on a Muslim man in Ghaziabad. In January, a first information report was filed against Siddharth Varadarajan for tweeting an article saying that a farmer who was killed during a tractor rally on Republic Day in Delhi had died in police firing. In April 2020, the Ayodhya Police had also filed a FIR against Varadarajan for a news report.

The demolition case

On May 17, the Barabanki administration demolished the mosque, suggesting that it was an “illegal residential complex”.

The Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board issued a statement the next day, calling the demolition an “act against law and misuse of power”. Zufar Faruqi, the chairperson of the board, said that the Allahabad High Court had passed an order on April 24, barring demolitions in the state till May 31. The board also said it will move court against the demolition.

However, the Barabanki district magistrate said the stakeholders of the mosque were issued a notice on March 15 and asked to make submissions regarding ownership, following which residents of the complex had fled.

The managing committee of the mosque had challenged the validity of the March 15 notice through a writ petition in the High Court, submitting that they were faced with “imminent danger of a demolition” of the mosque.

The High Court, however, had dismissed the petition on March 18, saying that the notice served to the petitioners was for seeking documentary evidence, and not for demolition. It had directed the managing committee to file a reply to the notice within 15 days, in addition to the one already filed.

The district magistrate claimed that after the petitioners submitted their replies on April 2, it was proven that the building was “illegal” and, accordingly, the demolition was carried out on May 17.

(Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this report said the FIR was filed against three journalists. The error has been rectified.)