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.
All About The Bhainsa Riots
Communal riots broke out in the town of Bhainsa in Telangana after altercations between Hindu and Muslim youth-led to stone pelting on March 7, 2021. Thirty-eight people have been arrested in connection with these riots, the majority being members of the right-wing nationalist organization Hindu Vahini. The police are on the lookout for 70 more people whose parts in the riots have been established.
What Happened In Bhainsa
Two, two-wheeler bourne youths named Thoth Mahesh and Dattu Patel attacked a Rizwan in Zulfiqar Gali. Rizwan and his friends went looking for the two attackers in Batli Gali. There they were beaten up by Mahesh and Dattu and their friends. Stone pelting followed between people of the two communities after one of the friends of Mahesh and Dattu again went to Zulfiqar Gali to buy alcohol and picked up a fight with members of the other community. A constable who tried to intervene and stop the fight sustained head injuries. Section 144 was imposed in the riot-affected areas.
Y. Nagi Reddy, the inspector general of the north zone, has said that 26 cases have been registered about the violence. The 38 people that have been arrested also include four minors. Twelve people, three of which were police officers, were injured in the stone-pelting. Four houses, thirteen shops, four rickshaws, six cars, and five two-wheelers were set on fire riots.
IGP Reddy said, “People belonging to one group were informed, gathered, and were sent to places under the guidance of Abdul Khabeer alias Baba, AIMIM party’s Counsellor from 15th ward.” He added, “The second group was led by Thota Vijay, Counsellor from 8th Ward and ex-president of Hindu Vahini. Some of the arsons committed on the second and the third day and night…..were led by Santhosh, who is the district president of Hindu Vahini.” He also clarified that the investigation was being conducted in an unbiased manner and that the instigators were identified using CCTV footage and Nenusaitham initiative geotagged cameras.
The Other Side Of The Story
Bandi Sanjay Kumar, the state BJP chief, alleged that the police were torturing Hindu Vahini members. He said that the party would complain to the central government against the state police’s third-degree interrogation methods. He also wrote to Telangana’s governor accusing Muslim “infiltrators” from Maharashtra of causing communal tensions in Bhainsa.
“AIMIM leader Mohammad Jabir Ahmed is the cause for communal violence in Bhainsa. They have been involved in land grabbing for a time now and when the local Hindus…… have been spreading the news via social media, communal violence has begun,” BJP MP Dharmapuri Arvind told news agency Asian News International.
The official spokesperson of the ruling TRS Krishank pushed back criticism of the State Government by saying, “Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao has always been very serious against the communal violence in the state.” He assured action against the riot perpetrators and said, “Strict action will be taken against the people resorting to communal violence in the state and also those who are spreading rumours across social media and are creating disturbances in the society.”
Why is Nodeep Kaur Making Headlines?
Nodeep Kaur is a 23-year-old Dalit Labour Rights Activist from Punjab. She is a member of the Mazdoor Adhikar Sanghatan, an organization based in the Kundli Industrial Area of Haryana which works for workers’ rights. She was involved in a protest with labourers at Kundli, on the border of Haryana and Delhi. The protest was about demanding higher wages for workers. It was also in solidarity with the ongoing farmers’ protests against the new farm laws. She was arrested on January 12. A string of charges was made against her following her arrest, including Section 307 (Attempted Murder). Her sister Rajveer Kaur alleged that the police have tortured and sexually abused Nodeep.
Nodeep Kaur comes from a Dalit family from Gandera Village in the Sri Muktsar Sahib district of Punjab. Her family is one of the activists, her parents are associated with a farmer’s union, and her sister is a member of the Bhagat Singh Chhatra Ekta Manch. After the lockdown restrictions eased, she started working at a factory in Sonipat, Haryana. She also joined the Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan around this time.
In a video shared by Canadian Poet Rupi Kaur, Nodeep Kaur can talk about Farmer-Labourer Unity. She speaks in support of the farmers’ protests and says that it is not a sole cause, and everyone needs to come out in support of the farmers.
on january 12—haryana police abducted nodeep kaur from her tent at singhu protest. since then she has been beaten & sexually assaulted while under police custody.
nodeep is 23 yold punjabi dalit woman & trade union activist who has been bravely speaking up about the protests. pic.twitter.com/XvN6TJwKj8
— rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) January 31, 2021
Why Was She Arrested?
Nodeep is a dedicated Labour rights activist. She was involved in a protest, and her associates at the Kundli border demanding higher wages for workers. The protest coincided with the ongoing farmers’ protests and was in solidarity with them. On January 12, a team of Sonipat Police went to the Kundli Industrial Area (KIA), acting on the information of alleged manhandling of management and the staff of a unit and extorting money from them. The police said Kaur and her associates attacked police with sticks and injured seven personnel. Her associates managed to flee, but she got arrested following the incident. She was produced before the court and sent to jail the same day.
The police say they did not seek remand. Sonipat Superintendent of Police said there were prior complaints of extortion against Nodeep Kaur, and a case was registered on December 28 2020. A slew of charges was pressed against her, including Murder, Extortion, Theft, Rioting, Unlawful Assembly, Extortion and Criminal Intimidation and other offences under Sections 148, 149, 332, 353, 186, 384, 379-b, 307. She was sent to the Karnal Jail in Haryana following her arrest.
Allegations Of Sexual Abuse And Torture In Custody
Rajveer, Nodeep’s older sister, visited her in Karnal Jail after her arrest. There, Nodeep told her of the alleged assault by police in Custody. She has alleged that there were no women police officers, and she was taken aside by male cops and beaten black and blue. Rajveer said that she was beaten publicly by male officers, dragged by her hair to the police van. She also said that Nodeep was beaten with sticks and shoes, including her private parts, which caused heavy bleeding. There are also allegations of sexual abuse by male police personnel.
The police vehemently deny these allegations and said that she was kept in the ladies’ waiting room and was accompanied by two female police officers for the entire duration of her stay.
Nodeep claims no medical examination was conducted following her arrest, violating Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code. She also claimed that she was made to sign blank papers in Custody. On the contrary, police say that she was taken to the civil hospital to undergo a general medical examination and special medical examination for sexual assault by a lady doctor. But Nodeep did not undergo a medical examination, and she gave a written statement to the doctor stating that she did not want to be examined since she wasn’t assaulted. Denying these allegations, the police said that Kaur did not speak about any assault in front of the magistrate. They called these allegations “an afterthought”.
Her advocate Arshdeep Singh Cheema questioned the statement and asked why the police made two separate requests for medical examinations in the first place.
On January 15, she applied for a medical examination before the magistrate. The magistrate ordered the examination had to be done on January 18. However, her medical examination happened only on January 25, 13 days after her arrest. Cheema claimed that this delay was done to allow her injuries to heal. The medical report later produced before the court pointed out that she did have purplish bruises on her body caused by blunt objects or weapons. Cheema said that these were indicative of the torture she was subjected to by the police.
International Attention For The Case
This case received very little attention before February 6. It was brought to the spotlight by Meena Harris, niece of US Vice President Kamala Harris.
Weird to see a photo of yourself burned by an extremist mob but imagine what they would do if we lived in India. I'll tell you—23 yo labor rights activist Nodeep Kaur was arrested, tortured & sexually assaulted in police custody. She's been detained without bail for over 20 days. pic.twitter.com/Ypt2h1hWJz
— Meena Harris (@meena) February 5, 2021
Her tweet came in response to the hate she received from Right Wing Hindutva elements alongside American and Canadian celebrities like Rihanna, Mia Khalifa and Rupi Kaur for speaking in support of the farmer’s protests.
Rajveer expressed her disappointment in the media about the little coverage it got before Harris’s tweet. Following sustained international recognition, many people domestically started speaking actively about the case and demanding Nodeep Kaur and other jailed activists’ release.
Progression Of Court Proceedings
Three First Information Reports (FIRs) were filed against Kaur, FIR numbers 26, 649 and 25. On February 2, a local court denied her bail application. However, the Government authorities were quick to act after international and domestic furore about her arrest picked up post-February 6. On February 8, the Punjab State Commission for Scheduled Castes asked the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) to provide relief.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo motu cognizance of Kaur’s illegal confinement and alleged police torture on February 12 after receiving complaints of the same via email on 6th and 8th February. The court posted this matter to be heard on February 24 (also the initial date of Kaur’s third bail plea hearing).
On February 12, she got bail on one of the cases, FIR no. 649, which dealt with rioting and other charges. On February 15, she got bail on the second case, FIR no. 26, which dealt with extortion. Her third and final bail application for the case registered under FIR no. 25, which dealt with murder and other charges, was filed on February 15. It was supposed to be heard on February 24, but the court adjourned the case after finding that the state’s medical records were not put on record. The matter was heard finally on Friday, February 26, where she finally got bail.
Justice Avneesh Jhingan also heard the suo motu matter along with the bail plea. This matter will now be discussed in April. Now that Kaur has received bail in all three cases, she got released from jail.
Julian Assange’s Extradition Rejected by UK Court
On January 4, the UK Court ruled that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should not be extradited to the United States of America to face criminal charges including breaking a spy law, as his present mental health complications suggest the risk of suicide attempt.
However, USA has stated that it would pursue the extradition and US prosecutors are ready to appeal the decision to London’s High Court.
Who is Julian Assange?
The 49-year-old Australian-born Assange has been accused of 18 offences regarding the release by WikiLeaks of a wide range of confidential US military records and diplomatic cables that may endanger the safety of lives. Assange, who spent a significant part of the last decade either in prison or self-imposed confinement, has been denied bail and remains in jail.
The US Justice Department claims that it has won on all the legal points, including political motivation and freedom of speech-related arguments, and thus, it would continue to seek Assange’s extradition.
USA’s government take:
The Obama administration did not prosecute Assange due to concerns about the precedent the case could set in free speech and journalism. Assange’s legal team has held the outgoing US President Donald Trump responsible for pressuring the concerning launch of the US effort for extradition, which could cause a grave threat to press freedom.
However, the White House has not issued any immediate comment on the ruling and Trump administration has given mixed messages. In contrast, the President-elect Joe Biden’s side has refrained from commenting.
Trump had shown his approval to WikiLeaks shortly before the 2016 presidential election for releasing hacked emails which landed his opponent Hillary Clinton in an embarrassing position. However, after Trump took office, his first CIA director Mike Pompeo stated that WikiLeaks was “a non-state hostile intelligence service”.
Ruling of UK Judge and further deteriorating condition of Julian:
Judge Vanessa Baraitser said that her judgment was based only on the possibility of Assange attempting suicide if kept in a US maximum security jail as he suffered from severe depression at intervals and had been diagnosed with autism.
In May 2019, half a razor blade had been discovered in his London jail cell. Assange also told the medical staff that he was having suicidal thoughts and making plans for the same. Baraitser also said that Assange made regular calls to the Samaritans suicide-prevention charity from prison.
According to Baraitser, “I find that Mr Assange’s risk of committing suicide, if an extradition order were to be made, to be substantial. The overall impression is of a depressed and sometimes despairing man, who is genuinely fearful about his future.”
For Assange’s supporters, the ruling was a victory, but the threat of extradition still looms large over his head. His partner Stella Moris said, “I call on the President of the United States to end this now: Mr President, tear down these prison walls, let our little boys have their father. Free Julian, free the press, free us all.”
People in support considers Julian as “Hero”:
Assange supporters consider him to be an anti-establishment hero, a victim for exposing US wrongdoings in Afghanistan and Iraq. Supporters claim his prosecution is to be a politically motivated assault on the press and freedom of speech.
However, the US prosecutors and Western security officials regard him to be a dangerous enemy of the state whose reckless actions in leaking classified information, has imperilled the lives of the agents, named in the material.
On the other hand, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said that his country would extend political asylum to Assange and he is in favour of pardoning him.
History of Legal trails with different governments:
Assange’s legal battles began when Sweden sought his extradition from Britain over alleged sex crimes. He lost the case in 2012 and fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London and stayed there for seven years. In April 2019, Assange was finally dragged out from there and imprisoned for breaching British bail conditions. The Swedish case has been dropped till that time. The US Justice Department formally asked Britain last June to extradite him.
However, Baraitser has rejected Trump’s team’s claims for pressuring the US prosecutors due to lack of evidence of hostility on Trump’s part and shunned the claims of the case being political and threatening freedom of speech.
She also said that Assange’s chances of getting a fair trial in the USA were adequate though she believes that Assange had breached investigative journalism boundaries. But she also feels that if Assange is found guilty, he would be sent to ADX Florence maximum security prison (SAM) in almost complete isolation where he could devise a plan of committing suicide, despite their preventive measures.
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