HRDA appeals to NHRC over illegal arrest of journalist Saleem Khan

Khan was allegedly harassed by a vegetable vendor and falsely accused when he reported on the inadequate amenities to shopkeepers in MP

journalist arrest

Human Rights Defenders’ Alert India (HRDA) is a Tamil Nadu based Human Rights forum that works towards initiating actions on behalf of Human Rights Defenders under threat or with security concerns.

This forum of Human Rights Defenders has written to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), expressing concern regarding the harassment, fabricated charges and wrongful arrest of journalist Saleem Khan by police officials in Madhya Pradesh.

They have alleged that on October 25, 2020, Saleem Khan visited the mandi in Panna district, where he witnessed an ongoing dispute between the vegetable vendors and other shopkeepers over slots in the mandi. Local TV journalist Durgesh Shishvhare from Sadhana News was also present to cover a story at the mandi and as they were doing their work, both were stopped by one Mohammad Iliyas, a vegetable vendor, and his friends.

The two journalists did not wish to enter into an altercation and hence, stopped taking photographs and video footage. Later that day, Saleem Khan published an article about the lack of amenities to shopkeepers at the mandi on his news portal including comments of the mandi secretary Rajkumar Dwivedi.

As he sent links of the story on WhatsApp, he received threatening messages from Iliyas, and complained about it to the then Superintendent of Police (SP) Mayank Awasthi. He was later called to the Police Station on December 27 last year and was made to wait for around five hours.

Eventually, around 3 PM, Sub-Inspector at the Panna police station Balveer Singh took Saleem to the officer in charge, Inspector Arun Soni who told him that they were placing him under arrest and confiscated his mobile phone.

Soni informed him that there were several complaints against him. The HRDA complaint states how Khan was denied to speak to his lawyer. He was arrested on the basis of an FIR filed by Mohammad Iliyas who alleged that Saleem Khan had abused, assaulted and threatened him on December 23, 2020, in the presence of several eyewitnesses.

Saleem Khan, who was initially booked for causing voluntary hurt, uttering obscene words in public and criminal intimidation was granted bail but the police withheld his mobile phone and gave it only after several calls from his lawyers. The police subsequently added section 386 (extortion) of the Indian Penal Code to his FIR, which is a non-bailable offence.

The complaint filed by HRDA alleged that neither an arrest memo was created at time of the arrest, nor a seizure memo was given to the jailed journalist for seizure of his phone. Further the complaint states that, “Mr. Khan was not allowed to call his lawyer despite his request, a violation of his right as mentioned in the DK Basu guidelines. He was asked to come to the police station under the false pretext of picking up a copy of his FIR, not told of the charges or questioned the entire day.”

The case against Khan seems to be a case of abuse of power and fabricated charges on him due to his reportage, as per HRDA. They have also questioned as to why the charges of extortion were added to his FIR later, despite there being no mention in the complaint.

Emphasising on the important work journalists do, the complaint to NHRC states that Journalists are human rights defenders as they face major risks as a result of their work both from the state and out of state actors. “The protection of journalists and human rights defenders, and ending impunity for attacks against them, is a global priority for safeguarding freedom of expression,” read the complaint.

Observing that the fourth pillar of the democracy will crumble if journalists are charged in fake cases every time, they try to bring a story to light, the human rights forum appealed the Commission to undertake an urgent, transparent and impartial investigation into the flouting of arrest procedures and the fabricated charges on Human Rights Defender Mr. Saleem Khan.

Directions have been sought from the Director General of Police of Madhya Pradesh, to take urgent and strict actions against the Mr. Mayank Awasthi, (the then) Superintendent of Police, Panna, Inspector Arun Soni, Sub-Inspector Balveer Singh, and other police personnel of the Panna police station.

They have also sought directions to the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh to provide compensation of Rs. 1,00,000 to Mr. Saleem Khan for the mental trauma inflicted upon him by the personnel of the Panna police station.

The entire complaint to NHRC may be read here:



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