HRDA demands investigation into fabricated cases lodged against journalist Manish Soni

Ambikapur officials file an FIR against a senior investigative journalist alleging he used abusive language against Mayor Tirki, a member of the Scheduled Tribe

journalist Manish Soni

Eager to prevent further harassment of senior journalist Manish Soni by local officials of Ambikapur city in Surguja district, the Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) on November 3, 2020 asked for an immediate inquiry into the false charges levied by Mayor and Congress leader Ajay Tirki.

The HRDA asked Chhattisgarh’s Director General of Police to take stern action against errant police officials and local administration for aiding and assaulting Soni who was charged under sections for the Information Technology Act on October 20, for allegedly creating an abusive video of Tirki and other officials.

The video-in-question is a fake version of an audio-video clip posted by Soni on his channel Chhattisgarh Post that showed how Ambikapur’s municipal corporation was destroying standing crops using heavy machinery. While the original video talked about the administration alleging farmers had encroached upon land earmarked for a mandi and a housing scheme, the fake video used abusive words for the administration and Congress leaders like Mr. Tirki and Mr. Singh Deo, causing much embarrassment. Tirki, a member of the Scheduled Tribe, claimed the abuse was a casteist slur directed at him.

Soni told police personnel Bhardwaj Singh that he had no hand in the fake video, and urged him not to register the politically-motivated complaint. However, Singh told him he was “under immense pressure” because of the large crowd in the police station.

Similarly, on October 23, Soni wrote to the Inspector General of Police Surguja Range, urging him to quash the false charges against him and take strict action against errant police officials. He also sent copies of the letter to Chief Minister Mr. Bhupesh Baghel, the Home Minister and the Governor, but no one replied.

Meanwhile, Singh and other police personnel continued to threaten Soni and his associates like journalists Jiten Jaiswal and Shivshankar Sahni. The police told them and other journalists that Professor Akeel Ahmed, an activist who works closely with Soni on public interest issues, is the brain behind the operations of a notorious gang of anti-social people whose “face” is Soni.

“Mr. Soni and his associates like Prof. Ahmed helped aggrieved farmers register an FIR at the Gandhinagar Police Station. However, instead of acting on the farmer’s FIR and punishing the guilty, the police is acting in collusion with senior Congress leaders to target and frame Mr. Soni and his associates. In an attempt to defame and malign Mr. Soni, Mr. Singh Deo had put out a tweet implicating Mr. Soni’s hand behind the spoof video,” said the HRDA report.

Accordingly, the organisation demanded that the National Human Rights Commission provide security for Soni, who is being targeted and harassed through online threats by the local politicians and local police and fears for his life.

Soni has been out on conditional bail since 2016 when he exposed the fraudulent arrest and tortured deaths of innocent Adivasis in Surguja. The widely acclaimed video resulted in a formal complaint against him in Ambikapur Police station.


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