Describing the Delhi Police’s action against a reporter with The Indian Express as “egregious and high-handed”, the Editors Guild of India noted with “concern a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country”.
The Indian Express Special Correspondent Mahender Singh Manral was questioned by Delhi Police on Monday in connection with a May 9 report “Tablighi FIR: Police probe indicates Saad audio clip was doctored”. The police had called the report “factually incorrect… purely conjectural” but on May 10 sent a notice to the City Editor and Chief Reporter, requiring the reporter to join the probe on Monday or face legal action under IPC Section 174.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Editors Guild called the Delhi Police action “egregious and high-handed”. It said, “While Manral wasn’t charged under any law, he was threatened that failure to join the probe could result in legal action under Section 174 of the IPC with punishment of a prison term and fine. This appears to be a little more than a fishing expedition to try and extract the journalist’s source and, thus, warn other reporters.”
The Guild also mentioned the instance of a Gujarati journalist being booked for sedition and detained on Monday. Dhaval Patel, who is the owner and editor of news portal Face of Nation, the Guild said, was booked under Section 124A of IPC for “spreading false panic” and Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act for “publishing a report suggesting the possibility of a leadership change in the state due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases”. It called it a “a misuse of special laws, besides sedition and IPC”.
The statement said, “These instances of police action in Gujarat and Delhi are deeply disturbing. The government and the police must recognise that the media is an integral part of the governance structure in any democracy. The Guild condemns these actions and asks the state and central governments to desist from misusing the law to threaten the free press.”
The Press Club of India also criticised the Delhi Police action against Manral. It said on Tuesday that the Crime Branch “compelling” the reporter to be present “under threat of criminal prosecution” and “including and implied threat to disclose sources” was “an affront to every canon of independent and responsible journalism”.
It stated that the matter should have ended with publishing of the rejoinder, but “it appears the government, using the police as a tool of victimisation, is coming down hard on the reporter”. It said that it was a “warning” to “journalists and media platforms and a rude reminder that they fall in line”.
It urged the Union Home Minister to “rein in the free-wheeling instincts of Delhi Police”.
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