The Editors Guild of India has criticised the Delhi Police for its highhandedness for threatening Indian Express Special Correspondent Mahender Singh Manral with legal action if he does not join a probe. The Guild noted it with “concern” as part of a “growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country”.
In a statement issued on Wednesday it said called Delhi Police’s action “egregious and high-handed”. Manral had been issued a notice on May 10 after he reported that the police had found that there was a possibility of an audio clip of leader of Tablighi Jamaan Maulana Saad may have been doctored. Delhi Police asked Manral to join the probe on May 10.
“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 stated.
It also mentioned the instance of a Gujarati journalist being booked for sedition and being detained on May 11. 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”. The Guild called it a “a misuse of special laws, besides sedition and IPC”.
“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.” It said in the statement.
The Press Club of India too had on May 12 criticised Delhi Police’s action against Manral. It said that the Crime Branch of the police compelling” the reporter to be present “under threat of criminal prosecution” and “including and implied threat to disclose sources” it said was “an affront to every canon of independent and responsible journalism”.
The Press Club 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 claimed that it was a “warning” to “journalists and media platforms and a rude reminder that they fall in line”. It urged Union Home Minister Amit Shah to “rein in the free-wheeling instincts of Delhi Police”.