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Muzzled, detained, jailed: What journalists face at farmers' protest site

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In what appears to be a blatant misuse of power by the state to muzzle the press, journalists covering the farmers’ protest at Delhi have alleged of being targeted by police through arrests, intimidation and charges of spreading ‘fake news’.

Delhi’s Rohini court on Sunday (January 31) sent freelance journalist Mandeep Punia to 14 days of judicial custody and rejected his bail plea. Punia was detained by Delhi Police at the Singhu border on Saturday evening, on charges of attempting to break barricades and scuffling with constables.

The Delhi court charged Punia under Sections 186, 353, 332 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, which pertains to obstructing public servants from discharging duty, causing hurt to public servants while discharging duty and endangering human life.

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Punia was detained by Delhi Police from the Singhu border on Saturday evening. In his FIR, a Delhi Police constable alleged that Punia attempted to break barricades and manhandled constables. The complainant said that Punia dragged one of the police constables to a drain and three constables were injured during the scuffle.

Another journalist, Dharmender Singh from Online News India, was also picked up by the police, but was released on Sunday morning. Talking to the media during his court hearing on Sunday, Punia said, “I was working on a story which would have clearly exposed the role of Delhi Police and BJP goons in the scuffle between farmers and goons on Friday when a group of around 200 people barged into the protest site despite heavy security, threw stones at farmers and damaged their tents.”

“I kept asking for an explanation from police again and again, but they didn’t give anything. Instead they kept a watch on me. I was very close to getting the conspiracy of the BJP and police out. This is the purpose of arresting me. The Delhi police destroyed Dharmendra’s camera and deleted all recording from my phone and camera as well,” Punia said.

The Uttar Pradesh Police on Sunday also filed an FIR against The Wire’s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan in Rampur district, for tweeting a report about the death of Navreet Singh, the lone fatality in the violence that erupted during the farmers’ Republic Day tractor rally.

Journalists Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today, Mrinal Pande of National Herald, Zafar Agha of Qaumi Awaz, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, and Vinod K. Jose of The Caravan were booked under sedition charges for sharing allegedly unverified news during the farmers’ tractor rally in New Delhi on January 26.

Only ‘Godi’ media allowed

Not only arrests, the police are also not allowing journalists to enter the protest site. Journalists are asked to leave their vehicles at least 2km away from the protest site and walk all the way to reach the protest site.

During the 2 km stretch, police check press identity cards near four different barricades and when journalists reach the fifth barricade, they are stopped from going inside. Police instead direct journalists towards another barricade from where the entry to press members are allowed and when journalists reach there, they are directed towards another barricade. In this way, police waylay journalists, but don’t allow them inside the protest site.

If journalists obey the police, they can’t report and if they don’t obey, the police detain them by putting some charges against them. When asked why the journalists are not allowed to enter the protest, a constable told The Federal that it is being done in view of the safety of the journalists.

“The farmers are beating journalists thinking that they are from state-sponsored media, that is why we are not allowing you inside,” he said.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) also condemned the action of Delhi Police on media. Darshan Pal, president of Krantikari Kisan Morcha told The Federal that this is very unfortunate that the police are taking actions against the innocent journalists after doing the same against innocent farmers.

He said, “This is not a democratic government. They allow all the state-sponsored media inside the protest who plant fake news against us and detain the journalists who show the truth. There is much fake news that state-sponsored media showed but no one was arrested. Why only journalists who show the truth and are questioning the government being targeted?”

Related news: Understanding the new farm laws and farmers’ protest in India

“This is not the first time that the farmers have come to Delhi to protest. Many farmers protests have happened in the past and were similar to our current protest. But this is the first time that farmers being labelled as anti-nationals or Khalistanis. Journalists showing the truth have been arrested and government-sponsored goons are beating farmers while the police help them,” he added.

Amaan Bali, a Sikh activist at the farmer’s protest told The Federal that the actions against the journalists show the desperation of the government.

“The government has tried every way possible to break the protest, but has been unsuccessful. Now they want to end this protest either through hook or crook. First, they suspended the internet and calls on the borders so that no one can talk to us. They also banned us from going outside the protest site and in fact, they dug up the land to stop us from going to Delhi,” he said.

“Now they are banning real media and journalists to enter the protest or detaining them. Only Godi media are allowed inside the protest site. In between government sent its goons as well to break our morale and weaken the protest. The government is now just waiting for a chance to break the protest and take actions against us. But we will stay till our last breath. We will go only after the three farm laws are repealed,” he added.

The press association and journalists in Delhi also held a march from Delhi Police Headquarters to Press Club to show solidarity with journalists and condemn the actions of police against scribes.

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