The Editors Guild of India (EGI) on Friday dubbed as "extremely disturbing" the police action against a journalist in Madhya Pradesh and also in Odisha, and urged the Union Home Ministry to issue "stern directions" to all levels of law enforcement agencies to respect democratic values and freedom of the press.
Strict action needs to be taken against those who misuse State powers, the Guild said in a statement, urging the ministry to take "immediate" cognisance of the two incidents. In Madhya Pradesh, local journalist Kanishk Tewari and a few activists who were protesting against the arrest of an artist were detained and forced to strip down to their undergarments while in police custody in Sidhi district on April 2.
After the photos of the detained persons in undergarments went viral on social media, two local police officials were transferred, a senior police official said on Thursday. Police claimed that the scribe was arrested along with others as he had also joined them to stage a protest "in an unauthorised manner" in front of the Kotwali police station against the arrest of Neeraj Kunder, director of Indravati Drama School.
The EGI, however, said Tewari was covering the protest against the arrest of the theatre artist who had allegedly made some indecent remarks against a BJP MLA and his son.
‘Shocked and outraged’
"The Editors Guild of India is shocked and outraged by the manner in which the police of Sidhi district, Madhya Pradesh, arrested, stripped, and humiliated a local journalist as well as some members of the civil society on April 2, 2022, in retaliation against protest and associated news coverage of the arrest of another member of civil society," it said.
The police took pictures of the journalist and activists and released them on social media to shame and humiliate them, added.
"Though Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has suspended the cops and ordered an inquiry into this horrendous case, this increasing tendency of the police and local administration to brazenly attack and intimidate journalists is extremely disturbing and needs to be checked," the Guild said.
In Odisha, an Odia television journalist was allegedly thrashed inside a police station and later leg cuffed to his hospital bed upon falling unconscious, triggering a massive outcry that led to police ordering a probe by a DSP-rank officer into the incident. The journalist, Loknath Dalei, claimed that he was thrashed because he had reported alleged corruption in Nilgiri police station area in Balasore district.
Dalei was arrested on Wednesday on the charge of assaulting a home guard in Nilgiri market on April 4 even as he denied the allegation, while claiming that he had only hit the homeguard's vehicle with his motorcycle unintentionally.
The Guild urged the Union Home Ministry "to take immediate cognisance of police excesses against journalists and civil society members, and issue stern directions to all levels of law enforcement agencies to respect democratic values and freedom of press."
At the same time, strict action needs to be taken against those who misuse state power, the Editors’ body added. “The inhumane manner in which journalists, stringers, and district reporters are often treated by the police in an effort to suppress any independent reporting is a matter of grave concern,” the EGI said.