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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Journalist couple arrested for exposing corruption in Mamata Banerjee’s government and Bengal police

Owner of Arambagh TV, Sheikh Safiqul Islam, along with his wife Alima Khatu and a fellow journalist Suraj Ali Khan have been arrested by West Bengal police on June 29th. Islam and his wife were running the local web-based news channel, and had attracted the wrath of the Trinamool Congress after it started exposing the ruling party’s corrupt practices.

Action was taken against the news channel by the state directorate after it had raised questions on the TMC government for granting donations to numerous dodgy clubs in West Bengal in the guise of relief for the Coronavirus pandemic. Several FIRs were lodged against Sheikh Safiqul Islam and his channel after they exposed how many of the clubs that had received grants from Mamata Banerjee’s administration didn’t really exist. Paying off party workers and hoodlums in the name of funding sports and culture clubs is a long-standing practise institutionalised by all governments of the state.

Earlier, the police had filed cases under sections 420, 468, 469, 471, 500, 505, 120B of the IPC against the channel and its owner. Safiqul was granted bail by Kolkata High Court in two of the cases filed against him. According to reports, the police have now arrested the couple on fresh charges of extortion.

The new charge was filed just days after the channel aired visuals of police taking bribes from trucks loaded with sand for construction. Reporting on the cost of sand charged from the final user that had gone up manifold, Arambhagh TV exposed how the police were charging these trucks illegally at various points, due to which the cost of the sand had reached its peak.

The fresh allegations brought against the media personnel state that they have been threatening a private citizen with leaking videos of illegal felling of trees, and demanded a sum of 30,000 for their silence. The journalist couple and the fellow reporter, Suraj Ai Khan, were arrested hours after this FIR was lodged so that they couldn’t immediately approach any court for bail.

On June 29th West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar sent out a tweet highlighting the arrest of Sheikh Safiqul Islam and the attack on his channel as a retaliatory action by the state government against the media house for exposing its continuous corrupt practises. He also brought to the fore the cases of issuing money to non-existing clubs by the government. “If journalists are silenced, so is a democracy,” the Governor stated.

Police dressed in plain clothes surrounded Safiqul’s house to arrest him and his wife; a video shows them breaking the windows with lathis, while some police personnel tried to enter the house by scaling the roof with a ladder.

Arambagh TV is a YouTube channel with 125K subscribers. Mainstream media in the state has remained silent to the government’s vindictive attack on this independent news platform. However, some members of the state’s intelligentsia have refused to stay unmoved by the arbitrary act and have been vocal demanding their immediate release. These include filmmakers Aparna Sen, Tarun Majumder, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, ex-Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen, and retired Supreme Court Justice Ashok K Ganguly, who have issued a joint statement over the unconstitutional arrest of the journalists. In the statement, they assert that the journalists were arrested as if the police were trying to catch murderers and rapists.

BJP members in the state staged a demonstration against the alleged bogus case foisted on the Arambagh TV journalists and their subsequent unlawful arrest. Led by BJP Youth Front president Somitra Khan, members protested with black bands tied to their chest in front of the Kolkata Press Club, but soon the congregation was removed by the police.

‘Secular’ governments look to muzzle press freedom

Such cases of ‘secular’ state governments cracking down on journalists who refuse to toe their line are being seen increasingly across the country. The Mamata Banerjee govt. had recently filed multiple FIRs against digital news outlet OpIndia for certain reports. The portal’s editor Nupur Sharma and her family, including aged father, were pressurised to delete the said reports (which incidentally were carried by other media too) and threatened with arrests. Finally, the OpIndia team were given relief by the Supreme Court which stayed the FIRs and issued notice to the WB govt. In their petition, OpIndia stated –

“The Government of West Bengal and its authoritarian Kolkata Police is misusing FIRs and brute police-powers not only to intimidate journalists, but also, to intimidate, threaten, and embarrass the family members of such journalists including senior citizens of the family so as to seek deletion of media reports which bring to the public’s notice the actual state of affairs in the State of West Bengal during these difficult times.”

In Maharashtra, the Sena-NCP-Congress coalition govt. similarly went after Republic TV chief editor Arnab Goswami for his coverage of the Palghar lynching (where two sadhus and their driver were killed by a tribal mob as police stood watching) and Bandra migrants’ protest incidents. Multiple FIRs were lodged against him, including one by Congress MLA Nitin Raut. Arnab has been grilled multiple times by Mumbai police, and other executives of the channel have also been hauled for questioning. Goswami has alleged “political vendetta and deliberate obstruction to his media duty” by Mumbai police at the behest of the ‘Vadra’ Congress.

Other journalists like Sudhir Chaudhary and Amish Devgan are also being hounded through FIRs filed in non-BJP ruled states. Pro-Hindu social media handles like @PokerShash are also being targeted through FIRs lodged by left-liberal politicians.

But all this has been ignored by our civil society elites and establishment intelligentsia. They only react with outrage when Hindu-bashing Lutyens’ journalists like The Wire‘s Siddartha Varadarajan and Scroll‘s Supriya Sharma face legal action – Varadarajan for clearly peddling fake news against UP CM Yogi Adityanath, and Sharma for falsely portraying a Dalit woman as starving and struggling for food.

Moreover, mainstream outlets (Indian ExpressThe Hindu, NDTV, AsiaNet) routinely get away with fake news, distortions, financial fraud, abuse/slander – even columnists calling and wishing for the PM’s assassination go scott free.

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