Picked The Wrong Target: ‘The Wire’ Editor Slams UP Govt Over FIRs
Siddharth Varadarajan said the UP govt’s actions show “the intention is to harass, intimidate, perhaps even arrest.”
Senior journalist and founding editor of ‘The Wire’, Siddharth Varadarajan, slammed the “urgency” shown by the Yogi Adityanath government to act on the FIRs filed against him amid a lockdown.
Speaking to The Quint, Varadarajan said: “The reason you act this way is because the intention is to harass, intimidate, perhaps even arrest. But they picked the wrong target!”
The matter pertains to an article in The Wire that incorrectly attributed a quote to UP CM Yogi Adityanath. Although a correction was issued, two FIRs were filed against Varadarajan and policemen had driven down “700 kms” to Varadarajan’s home in Delhi to ask him to appear in a court in Ayodhya on 14 April - all this amid a nationwide lockdown.
“Attempt to Muzzle Free Press”: Editors Back Varadarajan
The senior journalist has received support from many editors, artists and intellectuals across the spectrum, The Editors Guild of India, in a statement, called the FIR “an overreaction and an act of intimidation”.
Speaking to The Quint, senior journalists and editors condemned the UP police’s action and said it was “an attempt to muzzle free press.”
Senior editor Rajdeep Sardesai said, “The manner in which the FIR was filed and sought to be executed, to me, suggests that it is a clear assault on journalistic freedom and heavy-handedness of the State.”
Citing several examples where journalists in Uttar Pradesh have been “intimidated” by the state government for being critical, senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta said, “The action against Siddharth Varadarajan is a clear act of intolerance on the part of the UP govt headed by CM Yogi Adityanath. It falls under a certain pattern. The state govt has been particularly intolerant towards journalists who have been critical, who have been reporting certain unpleasant truths.”
Executive edior of Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin said, The FIR filed against Siddharth Varadarajan is an attempt to gag independent media and all that the professional and free media stands for which is presenting facts, criticising fairly and without any bias.”
She added, “It is against both the right to free speech and public’s right to information which are constitutionally guranteed. The sections of the FIR that have been applied do not fit in.”
The Chronology: Clarification, FIRs And Cops at Doorstep
- The Uttar Pradesh police had on 1 April registered an FIR against the veteran journalist regarding an article on The Wire published on 31 March, in the backdrop of the Tablighi Jamaat event controversy.
- While sharing the article on Twitter, Varadarajan had mistakenly claimed, "On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Adityanath insisted a large Ram Navami fair planned for Ayodhya from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual and that ‘Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’".
- The next day, as a clarification, the journalist tweeted, “I should clarify that it was Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself.” A correction was made to the article and a corrigendum was also added at the end of the story.
- There were two FIRs registered on the basis of complaints filed by private individuals described as residents of UP’s Faizabad. One of the FIRs which does not name Varadarajan and refers to a ‘blog’, was registered by Faizabad Kotwali police station in-charge Nitish Kumar Shrivastava.
- In the two FIRs filed against Varadarajan for misquoting UP CM Yogi Adityanath, he has been accused of: Section 188 of the IPC (disobedience of any order of a public servant); Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (a false alarm or warning as to disaster or its severity or magnitude leading to panic as per) ; Section 505(2) of the IPC (creation or promotion of enmity, hatred or ill will between classes; Section 67 of the IT Act (transmission of obscene material) and Section 66 D of the IT Act (cheat by impersonation using computer source).
- On 1 April, media advisor to UP CM Yogi Adityanath, Mrityuanjay Kumar had shared Varadarajan’s post threatening him to delete the tweet or else “be ready to ask for donations to fight a legal battle.” Soon after, he shared the details of the FIR registered against Varadarajan saying action has been initiated because he neither deleted the tweet nor apologised for it.
- On 10 April, sociologist and Varadarajan’s wife Nandini Sundar tweeted that a number of policemen had driven down “from Ayodhya” to Varadarajan’s Delhi home amid the lockdown to serve him a notice that asked him to appear in Ayodhya on 14 April for a statement.
- On 13 April, Varadarajan wrote on Twitter that the UP Police has offered to accept his statement over email.
‘Irrelevant’: Varadarajan Questions the Sections in the FIR
Reacting to the sections mentioned in the FIR, Varadarajan said, “The FIR on the basis of which 6-7 policemen set off from Ayodhya is so vague – a private individual says he is upset with something I tweeted but does not give details of what it was or when it was that I tweeted.”
“Despite the absence of any facts other than this assertion, the police slap some sections of the IPC and the IT Act. Then they add the ‘obscenity’ section of the IT Act (Sec 67) and irrelevant clauses from the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Diseases Act, get into an unmarked SUV and come all the way to Delhi to hand over a notice summoning me to Ayodhya on 14 April.”
“Is this matter so urgent that you need to deploy so many cops across such a long distance at a time of a national lockdown when policemen across the country are working overtime to ensure compliance with the 'curfew'?” Varadarajan asked.
He added, “Even assuming for a moment the matter was urgent, surely one person was enough to issue the notice? Or email could have been used?”
Commenting on the relevance of the sections added to the FIR, Varadarajan further said, “Only if the IO or SHO or someone who thought this FIR was worth registering can explain to me how these sections apply to some action of mine. If they could only show some application of mind, that would be very helpful.”
‘Pattern Across India’: Varadarajan Questions Freedom of Speech
Varadarajan said the high handedness of the UP police to act on a tweet against the CM is a reminder of “a pattern across India, where there is a growing crisis surrounding freedom of speech.
“Today I read about a JNU scholar being charged with promoting communal disharmony because an article he wrote in English for The Pioneer, when translated and published in Meiteilon, showed the ruling BJP there in bad light. I also read today that the Gujarat police have registered an FIR against Prashant Bhushan for a tweet! In J&K, journalists are not allowed to move around for their work, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in India, unless they get government accreditation. The list is endless.”
He added, “And all the while, the actual peddlers of communal hate in politics and the media are allowed to get away with their divisive agenda.”
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