The arrest of Editor-in-Chief and journalist Arnab Goswami of Republic TV on November 4, in relation with the 2018 abetment to suicide case of Anvay Naik, came as a shock to the nation. Mr Naik, an interior designer who had designed the news channel’s set and was allegedly not paid the dues by Mr Goswami’s channel, which prompted him to end his life, according to the suicide note left by him.
The arrest awakened several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders including Union Ministers like Amit Shah, Smriti Irani, Rajnath Singh, Prakash Javadekar and many senior party members who have explicitly expressed their outrage on Twitter.
They believed that the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government has misused its power and deliberately clamped down on freedom of expression and said that the arrest reminds them of the ‘Emergency days’.
The concern of leaders regarding media freedom is commendable. Still, it highly clashes with their past experiences where it was seen that governments across the Indian states targeted, booked and arrested several journalists. However, no outrage was seen on Twitter with trending hashtags by ministers.
Here’s a list of journalists captured just over the most recent couple of months, who lack same solidarity from the ruling party as Mr Goswami has.
1. March 29, 2020: Om Sharma of Divya Himachal, state police filed an FIR against Sharma for going live on social media from the industrial town of Baddi. The live focused upon starving migrant labourers who were protesting by the roadside. His report was termed as “sensational/fake news” in the FIR.
2. April 11 2020: Police slammed and used batons on Mushtaq Ahmed Ganai, a Srinagar-based reporter with the Kashmir Observer, before arresting. Ganai was out reporting during lockdown and was charged with disobedience under sections of the 123-year-old Epidemic Diseases Act. Ganai said that the “press” sticker was removed from his car before it was returned.
3. May 7, 2020: Naresh Khohal, a photojournalist of Jhajjar, a Hindi daily from Haryana, was arrested after he had informed the police about pelting of stones in his neighbourhood. Mr Khohal called the police in person and received no response; the local police booked the journalist for “creating a nuisance” and termed it as a violation of COVID-19 norms. After a month, government inquiry discovered that his arrest was “inappropriate”.
4. July 16, 2020: Rajib Sarma, a journalist and correspondent for Assam’s DY365, was arrested based on the complaint lodged by a district’s forest officer. Mr Sarma was investigating the forest officer’s alleged links to illegal activities like cattle smuggling and others. After facing heavy criticism by the masses, the government then ensured a CID probe into the matter.
5. August 8, 2020: Prashant Kanojia, an Independent journalist, who previously was a reporter with The Wire Hindi, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police twice in the last two years, for tweets that the government had tagged as ‘seditious’. Though in both the cases, courts ordered his release. He later deleted the tweets and posted an apology regarding the same.
6. September 3, 2019: Pawan Jaiswal, a print reporter with a Hindi daily, was charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and providing false evidence. His fault was that he filmed children who were eating roti and salt in the mid-day meals provided in primary schools at the district of Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. The police booked him for trying to defame the government through conspiracy, later when it was investigated; the teacher-in-charge was found guilty and was suspended.
7. September 5 2020 Tsewang Rigzin, State Times correspondent of Leh, was arrested, for a comment which wasn’t made by him. BJP MP Jamyang Tsering Namgyal from Ladakh filed a complaint against him after a third person said against the MP on a social media post which was moderated by Mr Rigzin. The group had 34,000 members. Later, the journalist was granted bail on the same day.
8. September 23, 2020: Aakar Patel, columnist and former executive director of Amnesty International India, said that he was arrested and then let out on bail for allegedly posting “offensive” tweets against the Ghanchi community in Gujarat to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs to, according to him. FIR was filed by a BJP MLA who reported that Mr Patel’s tweets were promoting enmity.
9. September 29, 2020: Kishore Chandra was arrested for the second time, charge for inciting enmity between two communities. He is currently detained at the Sajiwa Central Jail. According to few media reports; Mr Chandra was booked for replying to a viral social media post made by a renowned BJP politician’s wife. The post was in response to a supposedly offensive comment and a “racial slur”. In the year 2018, he was charged with sedition, for commenting against the RSS, Chief Minister, N. Biren Singh and PM Narendra Modi. It was only in 2019 that the high court had rejected the charges against him.
10. October 5, 2020: Siddique Kappan, a reporter of a Malayalam news portal called azhimukham.com, was arrested by the police in Uttar Pradesh, while he was on his way to Hathras to cover the alleged gang-rape and murder of a Dalit teenager. He was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for ‘conspiring’ against the state government.
11. October 8, 2020: Kishore Chandra Wangkhem, a 39-year-old Manipuri TV journalist, is in an Imphal prison for about a month now, charged over social media posts.
Many other media employees and channel are suffering, due to state government’s action in many parts of the country but failed to be in the limelight like that of Mr Goswami. Now here comes the question — Why so? What is so special about Mr Goswami’s case?
It is no hidden secret that Mr Goswami has been in constant tussle with the Maharashtra government over various issues namely over actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s case, Kangana Ranaut vs state government. From time to time, Mr Goswami pinpointed at the Maharashtra government and authorities showing their inability in ruling the state.
This might be the reason why BJP leaders favoured Mr Goswami, as his channel didn’t leave any opportunity to bash the Maha Vikash Aghadi government which took over the state after defeating BJP.
Be it political play of BJP or supporting a rightful journalist; the episode of arrest and Tweets have created a doubt among people over the double stand of Centre when it comes to journalists.