A first information report IFIR) was lodged against eight Twitter handles for “allegedly propagating fake news in connection with the death of two girls in Unnao last week,” news portal Rediff report quoted the area police said on Monday.
The Twitter handles include news portal ‘Mojo Story’, founded by senior journalist Barkha Dutt, Janjagran Live, Aazad Samaj Party spokesperson Suraj Kumar Boudh, Nilim Dutta, Vijay Ambedkar, Abhay Kumar Azad, Rahul Diwakar, Nawab Satpal Tanwar. The case was registered at the Sadar Kotwali police station area in Unnao on Sunday, and came to light soon enough. According to news reports, the FIR has been lodged for propagating ‘fake and misleading news’ regarding the incident, reported Rediff, quoting Assistant Superintendent of Police Vinod Kumar Pandey.
Barkha Dutt issued a public statement on Monday in reaction to the FIRs against her team for reporting Unnao murders: “We’ve followed journalistic principles by reporting all sides of an evolving story. To use IPC sections that are punishable with prison is pure intimidation. I am very ready to fight it and face it in court.” She updated this to add: “just when you thought it couldn’t get any more shocking the Unnao Police has refused to even give us a copy of the FIR in total violation of my legal rights, and without which we cannot appeal for judicial intervention. Brazen Harassment and bullying…” Dutt has said she found it “even more suspicious is how Unnao Police has clubbed us with a bunch of politicians. The police claim the FIR against us (upto 1 year in prison) is for mentioning sexual assault, which we NEVER did. Before fact checking @themojostory the UP Police needs to fact check its FIR”
On FIR against us for reporting Unnao murders- We’ve followed journalistic principles by reporting all sides of an evolving story. To use IPC sections that are punishable with prison is pure intimidation. I am very ready to fight it and face it in court. Statement @themojostory
— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) February 21, 2021
On February 17, late evening, news came in from Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, that three Dalit girls were found with their hands and legs tied in the field. While two of them were found dead, the third one was taken to the District hospital and is undergoing treatment. The incident occurred in Babura village, Asoha police station area. The family members said that the girls had gone to the fields in the afternoon to fetch fodder for the cattle and did not return until late evening. Then they went looking for them in the fields and found them tied up. The doctor went on record to say that the one girl who was brought to the hospital was gasping for breath and there were indications that she was poisoned. The District Magistrate reached the hospital to assess the situation and senior cops including IG and DIG Lucknow range reached the spot after being alerted. “The three girls were found in an unconscious state in their own field. Of them, two have died while one has been referred to the district hospital for treatment. Initial investigations suggest it is a case of poisoning. Statements of people are being recorded and the case is being investigated,” Superintendent of Police Unnao had said.
The last rites of the deceased girls were performed on Friday morning amid tight security arrangements. According to later news reports Unnao Police arrestedtwo people in this connection, “accusing them of murder over one-sided love”.
However, according to Rediff, on Saturday, Congress leader Udit Raj was booked for allegedly “propagating fake news in a tweet that the teenagers were raped and their bodies cremated against the will of their family.”
The Uttar Pradesh Police has claimed that Barkha Dutt’s newspotral Mojo Story had ‘wrongly reported that the police had rushed to perform the last rites of the two deceased girls despite objections from the girls’ families’. However, Mojo Story has denied this allegation and maintains that their report was based on the girls’ families’ statements. The NewsMinute reported that FIR that was registered under Section 153 of the IPC (Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and Section 66 of the Information and Technology Act, and claimed that false information was spread by the named journalists.
DigiPub, a collective of digital media organisations, has condemned the FIR filed against journalist Barkha Dutt amongst others for their coverage of the alleged poisoning for three Dalit teenage girls.
The DIGIPUB statement reads as follows:
“What is most outrageous is that the FIR by Unnao police is a clear and deliberate attempt at muzzling journalists and keeping them from doing their jobs. Not only this, Unnao SP Anand Kulkarni also threatened further action. Mojo Story in their tweet, denied these claims and cleared their stand on the news saying that inputs were given by a local reporter followed by a report by a Delhi correspondent. To challenge the claims, they asked for a copy of FIR which was refused by Unnao Police without which Mojo Story cannot appeal for a legal intervention.
Mojo Story has been penalised for reporting what the families of the Dalit girls told their reporter, that the police had been in favour of an early cremation but the families insisted otherwise. The police denial on this was also reported. The platform has also called out the police for clubbing them with politicians who had suggested falsely that the girls had been raped. The news platform has said it has not reported anything of the kind.
This is not the first time such attempts have been made to stop journalists from reporting, but it has become a pattern which needs to be addressed immediately by the government of Uttar Pradesh and the center needs to take a note. In this case, the sections used by the UP police allow for jail upto a year. Recently, UP police arrested Siddiqui Kappan for reporting on Hathras gangrape under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. This is no way for a responsible and a mature democracy to function. Intimidating the press using enforcement agencies and lodging FIRs, often in ways that push the boundaries of legality needs to stop.
The news media that DigiPub represents will not be intimidated and prevented from reporting the truth, however inconvenient it may be for anyone. We take our accountability as the fourth pillar of democracy very seriously and conduct ourselves in the most responsible fashion. We hope the governments around the country and in this case especially Uttar Pradesh, can do the same. DigiPub stands by the journalists named in the FIR and intend to challenge this bullying without compromise.”