A journalist who had reported a purported RTI reply from the government that it didn’t recruit Muslims for foreign assignments during last year’s World Yoga Day as a matter of “policy”, has been arrested for allegedly forging the documents.
The journalist, Pushp Sharma, was arrested on Friday night, about two months after the publication of the report in The Milli Gazette, an English-language fortnightly. He was produced in a city court on Saturday, which sent him to two days judicial custody in Tihar Jail.
Sources told The Sunday Express that over the last two months, Sharma had applied twice for anticipatory bail. The application is learnt to have been dismissed on technical grounds, while he had withdrawn the second.
Additional Deputy Commissioner (South) Nupur Prasad said Sharma had been arrested from his residence. “In March, we had registered an FIR under IPC sections 153A (promoting hatred among communities) and 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) against The Milli Gazette for publishing the article based on what the newspaper and the journalist, Pushp Sharma, said was an RTI reply sent by the Ministry,” she said.
After Sharma’s arrest, police are also invoking IPC section 466 (forgery of record of court or of public register) against him. “He was arrested after our investigations corroborated allegations that he had fabricated an RTI reply to publish a news report claiming that the government was discriminating against Muslims and denying them jobs of yoga trainers in the AYUSH ministry,” police sources said.
The sources said it appeared that Sharma had added some “forged annexures” to the ministry’s reply to claim the government had a policy of not recruiting Muslims as yoga teachers.
In a statement issued on March 12, the Ministry of AYUSH had described the report as “mischievous” and aimed at “promoting disharmony and mistrust with ulterior motives”. It had said that an annexure claimed to have been a part of the RTI reply was “fabricated”, and “had never been issued by the Ministry of AYUSH or any of its agencies”.
Police were learnt to have questioned Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, chief editor of The Milli Gazette, who had claimed in his statement under Section 164 of the CrPC that he had received the reply to the RTI application along with the annexures.
In a statement issued on the magazine’s website, Khan said, “The Ayush Ministry FIR against the journalist and the Press Council of India’s suo motu action are clear attempts to stifle the freedom of the press. While the Ayush Ministry was quick to file a complaint with the police, it failed to make any contact in any manner with the news magazine. Moreover, the PCI, instead of protecting journalists and media publications, seems to be taking the side of the government.”
Police have seized Sharma’s laptop along with all the letters in his possession. They will be sent for a forensic examination.