Mandeep Punia, Journalist Arrested at Singhu Border, Granted Bail
A Delhi court on Sunday had sent the freelance journalist to a 14-day judicial custody.
A Delhi court on Tuesday, 2 February, granted bail to Mandeep Punia, the journalist who had been arrested at Delhi’s Singhu Border on Saturday, the scribe’s lawyer confirmed to The Quint.
A Delhi court on Sunday had sent the freelance journalist – arrested on charges of causing assault, injury and obstruction to security forces at the Singhu Border – to a 14-day judicial custody.
Punia’s legal team, comprising Sarim Naved, Akram Khan and Kamran Javed, had submitted a bail application, which was to be heard on Monday. The application stated that the “offences as alleged in the FIR are not made out against him.”
What Does the Bail Order Say?
The judge noted one of the key arguments made by Punia's lawyers, that the FIR was registered at 1:21 AM on 31 January, even though the alleged incident took place at 6:30 PM the previous day. He also noted that Punia was a freelance journalist, which would plausibly explain his presence at the scene.
More pertinently in the context of bail, he also noted that "the complainant, victims and witnesses are police personnel only". This meant that there would be "no possibility" that Punia, if released could try to influence the them, which is one of the grounds on which bail can be refused.
Finally, the judge noted that there was no evidence or information that needed to be recovered from Punia even if the police's allegations were accurate. As a result, "keeping the accused further in Judicial Custody would not serve any cogent purpose."
As there was no need to keep Punia in custody, and there were no reasons to deny him bail, the settled legal principle of "bail is a rule and jail is an exception" would apply in this case. As a result, the court ordered Punia's release on furnishing a bail bond of Rs 25,000.
Additional conditions for bail were also standard, including directions to cooperate with the investigation, not tamper with evidence, not indulge in similar offences, take prior permission from the court before leaving the country, and informing the court of any change of address within a week.
What Had Happened on Saturday?
On Saturday, the Delhi Police had held Punia from the Singhu Border, claiming that he “misbehaved” with a station house officer (SHO) on duty, The Indian Express reported.
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 and was picked up by a group of policemen forcibly along with another journalist Dharmender Singh.
A video shared online purportedly shows Punia being manhandled by policemen wielding lathis. The police claimed that Punia was detained for trying to dismantle the barricades.
What Did 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. 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 for Punia
Since his detention, several 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.
The Editor’s Guild of India (EGI) and DIGIPUB News India Foundation issued statements on Monday condemning Punia’s arrest and demanded his immediate release.
The Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Club of India and the Press Association had also earlier issued statements condemning the “brutal police action” against Punia as well as Dharmender Singh.
The media bodies demanded that Mandeep be freed immediately, adding that “no journalist should be disturbed while carrying out their duties at any place.”
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