Three persons, including two journalists with Republic Media Network, were arrested Wednesday for allegedly trespassing on Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s farmhouse at Khalapur in Raigad district.
Slamming the police for “clamping down” on the right to report, Republic said that its “reporter Anuj Kumar, video journalist Yashpaljit Singh and Ola cab driver Pradeep Dilip Dhanavade have been taken into illegal police custody by the Maharashtra Police”. The three, the channel said, were “following a journalistic lead in an investigative assignment”.
A statement issued by the Raigad Police on Wednesday said “three suspicious persons” entered the premises illegally around 7.30 pm Tuesday following which they manhandled and threatened the security guard of the farmhouse.
The three were booked under IPC Sections 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint); 448 (punishment for house-trespass); 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt); 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace); 506 (criminal intimidation) and 34 (common intention). They were produced before a court in Khalapur and remanded in police custody until September 14.
“The team was apprehended and thrown into jail for four days after making an enquiry with a security guard of a certain residence. We are shocked that the Republic team was denied any legal representation before being sent to four days of custody,” Republic said.
Police said the complainant in the case was the security guard employed at the farmhouse. He was on night duty and walking to work when three men in a car asked him for directions to Thackeray’s farmhouse. Suspicious of their intention, the guard told them he didn’t know, the police said.
Minutes later, the three reached the farmhouse, saw the guard at the gate, entered his room and manhandled him, police said.
“The sequence of events, the nature of action and the motivated attempt to silence our reporters who pursue investigative stories reeks of vindictive, malicious and vengeful action by the Maharashtra government…Republic Media Network firmly stands by its team and will take every legal recourse available to fight for justice. We will raise this at every forum and campaign till justice is done,” the network said.
Denying the allegations, the channel said: “Should the intent have been to ‘trespass’ as is being alleged, an official enquiry to a security guard at a residential gate would not have been made.”
Calling the incident “a horrendous overreach” by the state government, the statement said the reporter was being pressured “to reveal his story, his leads and his sources”.
“In a free democratic country, if a reporter near the chief minister’s house to pursue a story is put in jail for 4 days without legal representation, it is not only an obvious and blatant attack on the right to report, but also the most determined attack on media freedom in India,” the network said.
Raigad SP Anil Paraskar said: “Two of them are affiliated to a news channel and had come from Mumbai. We submitted our say in the court and, accordingly, they were remanded in police custody.”