Nation Today's report

The Founder of the Wire, wired in mess

TPE Correspondent

Chandigarh, April 2

An FIR has been registered against the news portal ‘The Wire’ on charges of “creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes. The cases were booked under Sections 188 (disobedience to order) and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the Indian legal code.
A line in a piece of writing on the web site, published March 31, allegedly linked UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to saying that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus, which the officials found objectionable.

The Uttar Pradesh police on April 1 lodged two FIRs against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of stories portal The Wire, on charges of allegedly wrongly attributing a quote to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the Ram Navami festival controversy.

Link of the FIR

The registration of the FIR may be a deliberate bout on the liberty of the press, Varadarajan said in his retort. Both FIRs were lodged in Ayodhya district, one among them by the officer-in-charge of Faizabad Kotwali. The cases were booked under Sections 188 (disobedience to order) and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the Indian legal code. One among the FIRs also curiously invokes Section 66D of the IT Act, which deals with punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource.

The matters pertaining to a piece of writing published within the Wire on March 31 within the backdrop of the controversy over the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi. The road within the article found objectionable by the Uttar Pradesh police allegedly linked Adityanath to saying that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.

Varadarajan tweeted the piece while sharing the news story. “On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held Adityanath insisted on an outsized Ram Navami fair planned for Ayodhya from Annunciation to April 2 would proceed as was common which ‘Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’,” the tweet read.
The following day on April 1 within the afternoon, Varadarajan issued a clarification that Adityanath didn’t utter the verses about Lord Ram saving devotees against the coronavirus. “I should clarify that it had been Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself,” Varadarajan tweeted.

The article on The Wire was also edited with the clarification. “In an earlier version of the story, the quote about Ram saving devotees from the coronavirus was wrongly attributed to Yogi Adityanath. it had been actually said by Acharya Paramhans, head of the official Ram temple trust,” the article said.

The FIR lodged on the complaint of officer-in-charge of Faizabad Kotwali Nitish Kumar Shrivastava on Wednesday evening accused Varadarajan of spreading dissonance, antagonism ad anecdotes through his post. It also accused Varadarajan of creating “undignified” comments against Adityanath.

Mritunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Adityanath, said despite “our warnings, he Varadarajan] didn’t delete his lies and neither sought an apology.”

“FIR has been lodged. Further action is being taken,” Mr. Kumar said during a tweet. In an earlier tweet on April 1 morning, Kumar warned Varadarajan that action would be taken against him and a defamation case lodged if he didn’t delete the post. “Along with running the website, [you] will need to seek donations to fight the case,” Kumar taunted the editor. In a statement issued late on April 1, Varadarajan said he had come to understand about the FIRs through social media. “A bare perusal of the FIR shows that it’s politically motivated and therefore the offenses invoked aren’t even remotely made out,” Varadarajan said.

The government of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh doesn’t seem to possess learned anything despite the strictures passed against it by the Supreme Court in June 2019 when the court ordered the discharge of the journalist Prashant Kanojia whom the State had illegally arrested, he said. The proper to liberty may be a fundamental right and non-negotiable, the court had said, added Varadarajan.

“What the FIR says I even have stated — that Chief Minister Adityanath attended a public religious event in Ayodhya on Annunciation after the Prime Minister had announced a national lockdown — may be a matter of record,” he said.

In another statement, the founding editors of The Wire condemned the FIRs and said the offenses invoked in them were “not even remotely made out which it’s aimed toward stifling legitimate expression and factual information.”

“The Uttar Pradesh police seem to think its job is to travel after those that criticize the Chief Minister,” they said, calling the FIR a blatant attack on the liberty of the media.

According to Pankaj Chandgotia, an advocate and Rights Activist, “The FIR against WIRE is invalid and does not stand the scrutiny of law. Section 188 and 505(2) IPC has been invoked by the Police. It seems the FIR has been filed in a hurry without studying the ingredients required to be fulfilled for registering an FIR. No FIR can be registered under Section 188 IPC by the police, as per high court and Supreme Court. Section 505 (2) relates to HOLDING a religious congregation… Not REPORTING it. The reporting by WIRE is clearly within the EXCEPTION given in Section 505(2)”.

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