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Journalist Mandeep Punia Gets Bail After Being Arrested While Covering Farmers’ Protest on Republic Day 

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Left: Senior Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai at a function to felicitate IBN7 Super Idols (Licensed under CC BY 3.0) Middle (top): Journalist Mandeep Punia's Twitter Middle (bottom): Executive Editor of The Caravan Vinod K. Jose' Twitter Right: Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in the Global Redesign Session at the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2009 held in New Delhi, November 2009 (Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist who was arrested for allegedly misbehaving with police officials while reporting the farmers’ protest for The Caravan on Republic Day, was granted bail on Tuesday by a Delhi court.

The court noted that there was a significant delay in filing the First Information Report (FIR).

The court noted that it was a legal principle of law that “bail is a rule and jail is an exception” and since the complainant, victims and witnesses were police officials, there was “no possibility that accused/applicant would be able to influence them”.

Punia was booked under Section 186 (obstructing any public servant while discharging public functions), Section 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and Section 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) of the Indian Penal Code.

The bail was granted by Satvir Singh Lamba, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, North District, Rohini Court on Tuesday, on a bail bond of Rs 25,000.

Independent journalist arrested and detained

On January 30, Punia was remanded to a 14-day judicial custody for allegedly misbehaving with civil servants while reporting. After being presented at court on January 31, he was presented in Rohini court on Monday and the court reserved its order for Tuesday.

Basant Kumar, one of the journalists reporting for online news portal Newslaundry at the Singhu border, managed to get a copy of the FIR filed against Punia.

Speaking to Silverscreen India, Kumar said that Punia, along with journalist Dharmendra Singh, were detained by the police from the Singhu border around 6.40 pm on January 26. Till 2 am on January 27, there was no information at the Alipur Police station, which is in charge of the Singhu border area, regarding which police station they were detained at or what charges were pressed against them.

“At 2 am, we got the information that an FIR has been filed with the complaint of misbehaving with police officials and stopping them from working when the police were on duty. It was confirmed that Mandeep’s name is there but there was no confirmation on whether Dharmendra’s name was there,” Kumar said.

At around 3.30 am, Kumar along with other journalists returned from Alipur Police station without much information, he said.

Source: Journalist Basant Kumar’s Instagram

“At 8 am [on January 27], I spoke to Dharmendra who was released by the police. Actually he wasn’t arrested at all, he was just taken into custody. Dharmendra was made to write a maafinama [letter of apology], while an FIR was lodged against Mandeep under four sections that included barring government officials from performing their duty. We met the IO [Investigating Officer] Surendra Malik at 10 am at the Alipur Thana where I went for reporting. It is then that we came to know that Mandeep has been kept at the Samaypur Badli Thana because the arrangements for the detainees are not good at the Alipur Thana,” he said.

Around the same time, Punia’s wife was informed by the police station about his arrest and she was asked to bring a change of clothes for him, said Kumar.

“This means that Mandeep got arrested around 6.40 pm in the evening and his wife was informed after some 16-17 hours since his arrest. On reaching Samaypur Badli Thana, we saw Mandeep was being taken into a van. The police officials claimed that he was taken to the Rohini court to present him but instead the police took him to the Tihar court complex which is kind of inside the complex of Tihar jail,” Kumar said.

While Punia’s lawyer said he would be presented at court at 2 pm on January 27, he was presented before the court before the stipulated time in the absence of a defence lawyer, Kumar said.

“The defence lawyer told me that this is wrong because it is his right that when he [the accused] is presented, the defence lawyer is required to be there. Mandeep was sent to 14-days judicial custody and his wife told us in an interview that despite repeated requests, she hasn’t been provided with a copy of the FIR. Mandeep’s wife met him for the first time outside Tihar jail for a few minutes when he was being taken inside,” added Kumar.

In the FIR, instead of being mentioned as a journalist, Punia has been referred to as a pradarshankari (demonstrator). As per the FIR, Punia was “stuck to” CT Rajkumar during the violence where agitating farmers were trying to break police barricades. The FIR stated that Punia was held and taken under control when he fell into a drain beside the road. Two police officials- CT Mandan Lal and CT Pawan- were injured when “Punia along with the volunteers of his fellow demonstrators came and stopped the officers from doing their duty as well as injured them”, the FIR stated, adding that the protestors were hospitalised due to “physical assault”.

In a video posted by Kumar on Twitter, while the are no signs of Punia falling into a drain, it shows him getting shoved and manhandled by police officials wielding lathis.

Senior journalists facing sedition and other criminal charges 

Another FIR named sitting MP Shashi Tharoor, India TV consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai, group editor-in-chief of National Herald Mrinal Pande, editor of Qaumi Awaaz Zafar Agha, editor-in-chief of The Caravan Paresh Nath, editor of The Caravan Ananth Nath and executive editor of The Caravan Vinod K Jose for their alleged “digital broadcasts, social media posts, live coverage, misreporting and spreading disharmony”.

When the tractor rally by farmers turned violent, some journalists along with Tharoor had claimed that a farmer had been shot dead by the Delhi Police. The police, however, claimed that the post mortem report along with video evidence shows that his death was by “accident”. The police also released a video that showed that the deceased farmer lost his control while rushing towards a barricade near New Delhi’s ITO area, overturned and died.

In a news story and a video posted by The Wire, the late farmer’s family claimed that there were gunshot wounds near his chin and head. According to them, doctors had mentioned the cause of death as “unknown head injury” and they insisted that they had not mentioned about the gunshot wound due to government pressure.

An FIR was also filed against Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Wire, for tweeting the above mentioned article published on January 29, according to a report by the ScrollThe report stated that the FIR stated that the published article was written in a manner that the “autopsy doctor” had confirmed “death by bullet.” The case was filed by a Rampur district’s resident under Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and Section 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief).

Several members of the film fraternity, including music composer and singer Vishal Dadlani and director Hansal Mehta, came out in support of the journalists.

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