Dozens of journalists gathered at Delhi Police headquarters in solidarity with Punia demanding that the case against the journalist be dropped
NEW DELHI – Journalists, specially those belonging to online media, are up in arms against the detention and subsequent arrest of two of their colleagues by the Delhi Police. Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist and contributor to the Caravan magazine, and Dharmender Singh of Online News India, were on Saturday detained at Singhu border where they were covering farmers sit-in.
Punia was formally arrested and sent to jail on Sunday after police filed a case against him at Alipur Police station near Singhu border. He was reportedly covering the story around Saturday’s violence at the protest site following reports that Hindutva supporters had pelted stones on the farmer protests to force their eviction.
According to a Newslaundry report, a local was asking a police man to allow him to cross the barricade and Punia started filming the conversation. But the cops pounced on him and took him away. A video has gone viral on social media showing Punia being pulled by the collar by police men.
However, According to the Indian Express, police alleged that Punia misbehaved with the on duty Station House Officer on Saturday night.
For hours, there was no confirmation where Punia and Singh were taken but journalists gathered outside Alipur Police Station near Singhu border demanding their whereabouts. It was eventually late in the night the official information began trickling in confirming that police had filed a case against Punia.
The late night reports also said that Singh had been released after he had produced his press identity card.
The FIR against Punia invoked section 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code.
“We’ll take whatever legal recourse is necessary. We’ve learnt Mandeep had spent the morning trying to track down those from BJP claiming to be ‘locals’ at Singhu,” Caravan magazine political editor Hartosh Singh Bal said in a Tweet.
On Sunday morning, police produced Punia before a judicial magistrate in Rohini. Visuals that surfaced on the internet showed Punia raising his fist depicting his unflinching attitude as he was being taken to court.
As the word about Punia’s detention spread, journalists and activists wrote posts on social media deploring police action. A hashtag #MandeepPunia trended on Twitter in support of Punia.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took a dig at the government over Punia’s arrest. “Those who fear the truth arrest true journalists,” Gandhi said in a tweet.
At around 2 PM dozens of journalists gathered at Delhi Police headquarters in solidarity with Punia demanding that the case against the journalist be dropped and that he be released immediately. Policemen were seen appealing to journalists to follow covid-19 protocol, maintain social distancing and wear masks.
“Madeep Punia’s arrest is unacceptable,” said Atul Chauraisiya, Editor News Laundry, “We have gathered here to protest against Delhi Police’s high handedness and demand immediate release of our colleague.”
Prof Apoorvanand, a prominent civil society activist in Delhi who was part of the gathering, termed the arrest of Punia an “attack on Independent journalism”. He said the government is trying to “crush” journalists who try to amplify the voices of protesting farmers.
In the past four days, a number of cases have been filed against prominent journalists over reporting about the death of a protester during Republic Day violence. The latest in the string of journalists facing cases is Sidharath Varadarajan, the editor of The Wire news website. Police in Rampur booked Vardarajan on Sunday on charges of public mischief, imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration, after he had tweeted a story detailing the version of the family over the death of the protester.