Indian police have booked top opposition party politician Shashi Tharoor and six journalists on charges of sedition and “malafide intent” to cause large scale riots in Delhi on 26 January when a farmers rally took a violent turn that caused the death of one protestor and injured hundreds.
Former UN diplomat and politician, Mr Tharoor, and senior journalists, including Rajdeep Sardesai, have been booked for their tweets and announcements that alleged that a man who had died during the “tractor rally” in Delhi on Republic Day had actually been “shot.” The police strongly denied the claim, saying that the man died because the tractor he was driving toppled over after hitting a barricade.
As many as 394 police personnel were injured in the violence.
Delhi police had claimed that the man, identified as Navneet Singh, died after he lost control of his tractor which overturned. However, the farmers contested the claim and said the man died in police firing, even as the police released CCTV footage that showed the deceased farmer’s tractor toppling over.
The post mortem report has reportedly also ruled out a bullet injury. It said that Mr Singh died because of a “traumatic injury above left side of his skull from where his brain started oozing out.”
A First Information Report (FIR) was lodged by the Uttar Pradesh state police against eight people, based on the complaint of a resident, Arpit Mishra, 35.
The FIR said the accused publicised “false information” as part of a “planned conspiracy” and jeopardised national safety. “These people deliberately made malicious, offensive, misleading and provocative statements, and tweeted…that police killed a protesting tractor driver,” it said.
The journalists and politicians named in the FIR are accused of passing fake news for “personal and political gains.”
“This was done with the malafide intent so that riots take place at a large scale and tensions are created between different communities,” it alleged.
“Our lawyers are looking into it. Our reporters were on the ground, and had eyewitness on camera,” Vinod Jose, who is named in the complaint and works at the news website, The Caravan, told The Indian Express newspaper.
The Editors Guild of India, founded in 1978 to protect freedom of press in India, strongly condemned the FIRs filed against journalists in an “intimidating manner” and demanded the complaints to be withdrawn immediately. It highlighted that the tweets from their personal accounts were in line with journalistic practices and they were only reporting the details emerging from the ground on eyewitnesses’ accounts.
“On a day thick with information, the EGI finds these FIRs, filed in different states, as an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media. That the FIRs have been booked under as many as ten different provisions including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs, is further disturbing,” it noted.
Those named in FIR are: Mr Tharoor, Mr Sardesai, Mrinal Pandey of National Herald, The Caravan’s Anant Nath, Paresh Nath and Mr Jose, and Zafar Agha of Qaumi Awaz.
Earlier on Thursday, the management of India Today news channel took disciplinary action against Mr Sardesai, who is a consulting editor and anchor, for his tweet. He was taken off-air for two weeks and docked a month’s salary. Mr Sardesai has retracted his tweet and issued a clarification.
The situation continued to remain tense on Delhi’s Ghazipur border that connects the capital and Uttar Pradesh, where thousands of protesters have been camping from months against farm reforms.
The farmers are demanding a reversal of government reforms that they say will open up the agricultural sector to market forces.
The UP administration on Thursday night issued orders for protesting farmers to vacate the site.
Meanwhile, Rakesh Tikait, the spokesperson for a collective of farmers’ unions — Bharatiya Kisan Union — warned of consequence if any action is taken against them. Mr Tikait was seen tearing up in a video as he issued an emotional appeal and vowed to keep the agitation going.