Journalist Abhijit Iyer-Mitra was on Thursday arrested in Delhi by Odisha Police for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Odisha’s culture, religious monuments and history. A Delhi court, however, dismissed Odisha Police’s plea for Iyer-Mitra’s transit remand and granted him transit bail. The magistrate said the accused had appeared at Hazrat Nizamuddin police station for interrogation and that the court believes that he will join the probe.
In another development, Odisha Assembly Speaker Pradeep Amat approved constitution of a special committee to probe if Iyer-Mitra’s alleged derogatory remarks on MLAs amount to a breach of privilege.
The journalist had on Saturday made a chopper trip across a stretch of coastal Odisha up to Konark with Baijayant Panda, who quit the ruling BJD in May. The helicopter, flown by Panda, was seized Monday over an alleged attempted landing on Chilika Lake. Police have sealed the hangar where the helicopter, operated by Indian Metals and Ferro Alloys Ltd and frequently used by Panda, was kept.
Iyer-Mitra has said his remarks were “sarcasm” and not made in Panda’s presence. Panda has said he did not approve of the remarks, but added that the views were “satirical”.
During the hearing in the Delhi court, an Odisha Police Inspector said Iyer-Mitra was arrested Thursday and sought three days’ transit remand. Appearing for Odisha government, counsel Rajiv Mohan submitted that the accused tweeted against the Odia people. It was submitted that these tweets were dated September 14, 2017.
When Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Manish Khurana asked Iyer-Mitra if he deleted the tweet, he said, “I did not do that…that would have been destruction of evidence.” Later, he told the court, “I had no clue on what grounds I have been arrested until I came to the court…I am a witness in another case and I have been summoned through an email…Last night two policemen came to my house…I was called to H Nizamuddin Police Station and since 11 am, I have been detained and my phone was seized.”
The FIR was lodged in Odisha on the complaint of one Bimabdhar Beura. The judge noted that the accused had been charged under Section 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 298 (Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings) of the IPC.
“…the accused persons Abhijit Iyer and Baijayant Panda have given unpalatable and irresponsible remarks on Konark Sun Temple…with an intention to outrage…and to wound religious feelings…,” the FIR said. Defence counsel Tarun Goomber moved a transit bail application and stated that the tweets were posted a year earlier. The court later granted transit bail to the journalist.
In Bhubaneswar, Leader of Opposition in Assembly Narasingha Mishra told The Indian Express, “The MLAs discussed this gentleman’s (Abhijit) derogatory remarks about Konark and Puri. In retaliation, he said something like ‘all MLAs in the Odisha Legislative Assembly are idiots’. It is a way of putting pressure on MLAs so that they don’t criticise him. That amounts to breach of privilege.”
The committee will be chaired by Leader of Opposition Mishra and comprise K V Singh Deo, Debi Mishra, Pramilla Mallick, Arun Sahoo and Sanjay Das Burma.