A Chhattisgarh police team arrested senior journalist Vinod Verma from his residence in Ghaziabad at 3:30 am on Friday on charges of extortion. Denying the allegations, Verma claimed that he was “being framed” and the Chhattisgarh government was “not happy” with him as he had a “sex CD” of state PWD Minister Rajesh Munat.
In Raipur, Munat said the contents of the CD were fake. Addressing a press conference, he said: “This has been done to ruin my reputation. I will ask the Chief Minister to probe the case. In all my years of politics, it has never stooped this low.”
Sources said the Chhattisgarh police team arrived in Ghaziabad late on Thursday, after taking the last flight out of Raipur. They told their counterparts at the Indirapuram police station that the arrest was “urgent” as Verma had threatened to release the purported sex tape in Ghaziabad and Raipur.
“The Chhattisgarh police arrived at the police station and approached us to assist them to arrest the journalist. They said that a case was registered against him on the complaint of Prakash Bajaj, a BJP leader in Raipur district,” said Indirapuram SHO Sushil Dubey. The Ghaziabad police said a case had been registered against Verma at the Pandri Police Station at Raipur, under Sections 384 (extortion) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the IPC and Section 67 (a) of the IT Act.
“Our role was limited to assisting them,” said Ghaziabad SSP H N Singh. The Chhattisgarh police claimed to have recovered 500 CDs, a laptop, a pen drive and Rs 2 lakh in cash from Verma’s residence. They also claimed to have identified a shop that Verma had reportedly approached to make 1,000 copies of the purported sex tape. But they refused to comment on the contents of the pen drive, laptop or CDs. Verma, however, claimed that only the pen drive was his, and he “had nothing to do with the CDs”.
According to sources, Bajaj has alleged in his complaint that Verma was attempting to extort money from him. He has said that he received the extortion call on his landline number, and the caller threatened to leak a CD of his “aaka” and ruin his reputation. However, police officers did not respond to questions on whether it was Verma who had made the call, whether it was from his number, or if the CD concerned was of a BJP state minister.
At the Indirapuram police station, Verma was questioned about the purported sex CD, said sources. “The line of questioning had to do with the allegations made against him. We were trying to ascertain the veracity of the CD and what he was planning to do with it, while also verifying the charges of extortion and blackmail,” said a senior Ghaziabad police officer.
While he was being taken to court, Verma told reporters that he was being framed. Denying the charges of extortion and blackmail, he said: “I have a sex CD of a Chhattisgarh minister, he is Rajesh Munat, and that is why the Chhattisgarh government is not happy with me. I just have a pen drive and have nothing to do with the CDs. Clearly, I am being framed.”
He was produced before Chief Judicial Magistrate Archna, who granted three days transit remand to the Chhattisgarh police, rejecting the plea of defence lawyer Rakesh Tyagi, who argued that the charges could lead to a jail term of three years. Tyagi said Verma was being targeted since he was associated with the Congress in Chhattisgarh.
Verma, a freelance journalist who was earlier the Digital Editor of Amar Ujala and also worked with BBC Hindi, was a part of the fact-finding team of the Editors Guild of India which went to Chhattisgarh last year to investigate the reported intimidation of journalists. The report that he co-authored concluded that there was a “sense of fear” among journalists working in Maoist-affected Bastar. “The state government wants the media to see its fight with the Maoists as a fight for the nation and expects the media to treat it as a national security issue, and not raise any questions about it,” it said.
Condemning the arrest, the Congress today said it was part of a larger narrative of journalists being intimidated by the BJP government. “The government’s action gives credibility to the notion that this CD is indeed of the minister. The CD must be looked into and Verma must be released immediately,” said state party president Bhupesh Baghel.
Stating that the contents of the CD were in public domain, he asked if everyone who possessed it would be charged by the BJP government. Congress sources added that while Verma was associated with the party, this had no bearing on the case. By evening, the AAP began protests against the minister and the Congress burnt his effigies. AAP workers blackened Munat’s nameplate outside his residence in Raipur. Both the parties demanded the minister’s resignation.