A Delhi court on Sunday, 31 January sent freelance journalist Mandeep Punia – arrested on charges of causing assault, injury and obstruction to security forces at the Singhu border – to 14 days judicial custody, the scribe’s legal team told The Quint.
Punia’s legal team, comprising Sarim Naved, Akram Khan and Kamran Javed, has submitted a bail application, which will be heard on Monday, 1 February. The application states that the “offences as alleged in the FIR are not made out against him.”
The bail application also questions a delay of seven hours between the alleged scuffle that the police says Punia was a part of and the registration of the FIR, while adding that the accused was kept in custody as he being a freelance journalist, was not carrying a press card.
Prior to the hearing, Additional DCP-I, Jitendra Kumar Meena, who is looking after the charge of DCP, Outer North, had said that Punia has been slapped with IPC section 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions) ,332 (voluntarily causing hurt to any person being a public servant in the discharge of his duty) ,353( Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.)
Outside Police HQ, Protest Against Punia’s Arrest
Meanwhile, Punia’s arrest has sparked an outrage among the media fraternity, members of which are staging a protest outside the New Delhi Police Headquarters.
Protest outside Delhi Police HQ in New Delhi in solidarity with arrested scribe Mandeep Punia.
(Photo: The Quint)
Posting a clip of Punia’s arrest, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi remarked that “those who fear the truth arrest true journalists.”
What Transpired on Saturday?
Earlier on Saturday, 30 January, the Delhi Police had detained the freelance journalist from the Singhu border, claiming that he “misbehaved” with a station house officer (SHO) on duty, The Indian Express reported.
Mandeep Punia, who is a freelancer with The Caravan, was on an assignment to cover the ongoing farmers’ protest at Singhu. According to the report, as he was moving through barricades he was picked up a group of policemen forcibly along with another journalist Dharmender Singh.
A video shared online purportedly shows Punia being manhandled with policemen wielding lathis. The police claimed that Punia was detained for trying to dismantle the barricades.
The Indian Express report quoted an unidentified officer as saying, “Punia was standing with the protesters and he didn’t have a press ID card. He was trying to move through the barricades which were kept to segregate and secure the area. An altercation broke out between police personnel and him. He misbehaved... there was some manhandling as well. He was then detained.”
While Singh, who works with Online News India, was let off after he showed his ID card, Punia was detained.
Political editor of The Caravan Hartosh Singh Bal tweeted saying that they have received information about the charges against him.
An FIR has been filed under Sections 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the Indian Penal Code.
What Does the FIR Say?
According to the FIR, a copy of which has been seen by The Quint, volunteers from the Singhu protest site had allegedly made repeated attempts to cross the barricades that were placed around the area.
The FIR claims that although the volunteers and protesters were repeatedly asked not to come near the barricades, they had formed groups of 10 to 15 people. These groups, the FIR alleges, had attempted to cross the barricades several times, but were unsuccessful in doing so.
According to the FIR, at around 6:30 pm on Saturday, a group of protesters once again tried to break the barricades and after they were stopped, one person got into a scuffle with a constable and started to drag the latter towards the protest site.
The FIR says that while everybody returned, one person who tried to drag the said constable had fallen into a pit on the road and was identified as Mandeep Punia. Three policemen were injured in the scuffle.
Support Pours in for Punia
Hours before his detention, Punia had posted a Facebook live detailing the incident of clashes at the protest site. He elaborated on how men claiming to be locals had pelted stones at the protest site in full view of the police in the video.
Since his detention, a lot of senior journalists and journalist groups have taken to Twitter demanding his immediate release. They have also criticised the ever-increasing threat to free media, especially freelance journalists.
Swaraj Abhiyan founder Yogendra Yadav, who have been protesting alongside farmers, and Bollywood actor Richa Chadha have also tweeted in support of Punia.
Press Bodies Condemn Punia’s Arrest
The Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India and the Press Association have issued a statement condemning the “brutal police action” against Punia as well as Dharmender Singh. The arrest is “part of the government crackdown on journalists to prevent them from doing their job independently and freely,” the statement read.
The media bodies demanded that Mandeep be freed immediately, adding that “no journalist should be disturbed while carrying out their duties at any place.”
“Such crackdowns impinge on the media’s right to report freely and interferes with our right to freedom of expression, and freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Constitution of India,” the statement added.