New Delhi: “Is it not torture then what? Whatever happened with Mandeep (Punia) can also happen with you as well. How can he brutally attack 50-60 policemen? This is a baseless allegation.”
It was said by Leela Shree, wife of journalist Mandeep Punia to media persons. Mandeep was arrested on Saturday evening by Delhi police at Singhu border allegedly for obstructing police officials in their work and misbehaving with them. Shree was present along with several journalists protesting against the arresting at Delhi police headquarters.
Mandeep Punia is a freelance journalist associated with The Caravan Magazine and Junpath. He has been regularly doing ground reporting about ongoing farmers’ movement. Police charged him with IPC sections- 186, 332, 353 and 34. After presenting in a judicial court, Mandeep was sent to 14 days’ judicial custody on Sunday.
Shree told that she was in Chandigarh and rushed when she got to know about her husband’s arrest but could not track his whereabouts for hours.
Speaking to eNewsroom, Leela Shree said, “I got to know about the incident as the video (of his arrest) got viral on social media. Initially I got scared by watching it. I inquired about him from his friends till 4 am in the morning today but didn’t get his exact location. Then from one of his friends, I got to know that he was at Alipur police station where an FIR had been lodged against him.”
Objecting over charges on Mandeep, Shree reacted, “In the video itself, one can see he was trying to refrain and was misbehaving and manhandling with him. Means if any reporter wants to report the facts, you can use your power to threaten him.”
When asked whether a Facebook live by Mandeep Punia a day prior, could be the reason for his arrest, Shree replied, “Mandeep has been regularly reporting factual stories of farmers’ protest from the ground for the last two months. So it is quite possible that due to his FB live, this happened with him. Administration seems under pressure. This could be a tactic of pressure making from the regime and administration side.”
Shree also said that police didn’t allow her to meet her husband, citing “sections framed against him”. “We have submitted a bail application and I am hopeful he will get bail soon,” she hoped.
Appealing support from journalistic fraternity and civil society, Shree added, “A fair probe should be done”.
Mandeep’s FB Live
On 30th January, Mandeep did a Facebook live, informing that he witnessed a “coalition between the police and rioters” who clashed with farmers at Singhu border.
In the FB live, Mandeep narrated that on 29th January, some 50-60 men carrying tricolor reached at Singhu border asking farmers to vacate the site. “They were under the protection of policemen deployed there. They abused farmers, pelted stones on farmers, threw a petrol bomb over them and also tried to remove camps of women protesters,” as quoted as Madeep said.
Mandeep further showed the pictures of a couple of men who were among those rioters and have links with BJP leaders.
Among them one is Pradeep Khatri Tholedar who had pics with BJP former Delhi president Manoj Tiwari shared on his FB page. Khatri is district convener of BJP. Another one is Aman Dabas had pictures with Home Minister Amit Shah. He is BJP’s zonal president from Bawana. His wife is also a BJP councillor. Both were reportedly propagated as the locals by mainstream media who protested against farmers.
Filmmaker Vinod Kapri in his tweet questioned whether “Mandeep was arrested to expose the coalition between Delhi police and BJP men who unleashed violence on farmers.”
Silent Protest March by Journalists
On the arrest of Mandeep, hundreds of journalists protested at Delhi police headquarters at Jai Singh road on Sunday. They demanded his immediate release while protesting against Delhi police action possibly under government’s pressure.
Vikas Kumar from Asia Ville News said on the occasion, “We are distressed over Mandeep’s arrest. Police have made a wrong arrest.”
While Ajay Prakash, Editor of Janjwar mentioned, “It is a regular attempt by the state over the journalists presenting a counter view. If any journalist is not working on the government’s toe, he or she is an enemy of it.”
Independent journalist Dilip Khan pointed out, “Actually Mandeep did not disrupt police work but it is police which disrupt Mandeep’s work. All such journalists who have been critical towards the government, are under attack.” Citing the denial of bail of Kerala journalist Kappan Siddiqui’s who is in jail for three months for reporting Hathras gang rape case, Dilip said, “It shows a nexus between judiciary and political system.”
The Caravan Magazine’s Take
On Mandeep’s arrest, Caravan’s Political Editor Hartosh Singh Bal tweeted, “In Mandeep Punia’s case metropolitan magistrate directs ‘IO to file formal reply forwarded through SHO. Put up before the concerned court for 01/02.’ hopefully he will get bail tomorrow.”
Since Republic Day choas during farmers’ tractor parade, police in three BJP ruled states—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have also booked some senior journalists including The Caravan Magazine’s editors Paresh Nath, Ananth Nath, executive editor Vinod K. Jose under sedition charges for their alleged provoking social media posts.
Besides, Rajdeep Serdesai (India Today), National Herald’s group Editor-in-Chief Zafar Agha, senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande have also been charged under sedition (124-A), 124 (B) 153 (A), (B), 295 (A), 298, 504,506, 505 (2) and section 66 of the IT Act 2000.