At least 101 FIRs have been filed against Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami in Chhattisgarh, governed by the Congress. Newslaundry has accessed 54 of these FIRs.
The FIRs have been filed in at least 20 of the state’s 27 districts, all of them by local Congress leaders and party workers.
In addition to Goswami, about two dozen of these FIRs name Republic TV, its Hindi concern Republic Bharat, and its parent company ARG Outlier Media as accused.
On Friday, the Supreme Court of India, in an “extremely urgent” hearing, stayed action on all FIRs filed against the Republic TV anchor across the country until further orders, except the one filed in Nagpur, which will now be transferred to Mumbai on the apex court’s orders.
Of the 54 FIRs accessed by Newslaundry, 12 have been registered at nine police stations in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, eight at seven police stations in Raipur, eight at five stations in Dantewada, and six at five police stations in Gariyaband.
The FIRs invoke multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code against Goswami and his network. These include sections 34 (criminal act with common intention), 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion), 290 (public nuisance), 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief).
One of the FIRs filed in Chhattisgarh.
One FIR lodged in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh, books the anchor under section 51 (a) of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which criminalises obstruction to official action.
However, most FIRs seek Goswami’s prosecution under section 188 of the IPC.
Congress functionaries in Chhattisgarh told Newslaundry that the process of filing these FIRs was coordinated by the state party’s social media cell, Youth Congress, and block and district presidents. “We can confirm at least 101 FIRs against Arnab Goswami in Chhattisgarh as of April 23,” a senior functionary in the party said.
“Goswami’s comments on Rahul Gandhi’s statement on Covid-19 testing were indecent. He lied about what Rahul ji had said regarding precautions against coronavirus, which is unacceptable. Second, the kind of things Goswami said about our president, Sonia Gandhi, are shameful,” said Shailesh Trivedi, the Congress spokesperson in Chhattisgarh. “Arnab’s doing is an attempt by the Modi government to distract people from its failures, be it the migrant workers crisis or Rahul Gandhi’s attempts to warn the government about it.”
The 54 FIRs accessed by Newslaundry largely stick to two key complaints against Goswami. First is his reporting on Rahul Gandhi’s April 16 press conference, where the Congress leader described the lockdown as a “pause button” and not a solution to stopping the coronavirus pandemic. Gandhi also suggested that the government needed to step up its testing aggressively. The second complaint was regarding Goswami’s comments on Sonia Gandhi.
In a Republic Bharat on April 21, Goswami asked whether “Italy wali Sonia Gandhi” would have stayed silent had Christian religious leaders been attacked and killed. The anchor’s show was discussing the April 16 Palghar lynching in Maharashtra. Goswami also referred to the Congress president as “Antonia Maino”, adding that she might be happy that Hindus were killed in Palghar.
One of the FIRs filed in Chhattisgarh.
“On April 16, Shri Rahul Gandhi had done a press conference via video link where he gave certain very constructive suggestions to the central government to adopt in order to deal with the crisis caused by the outbreak of coronavirus,” says one of the FIRs filed at Raipur’s Civil Lines police station by Girish Dube, president of the Raipur Congress. “Arnab Goswami, Republic Bharat and Republic TV...misled the country into believing that Shri Gandhi’s suggestion about ramping up testing was not correct...In trademark zeal to crawl at the instructions of his political masters, Arnab Goswami deliberately misreported on the importance of testing, as a result of which, the country’s fight against coronavirus has been weakened.”
Another FIR filed in Bastar by Rajeev Sharma, a local Congress leader, states, “This is how Arnab Goswami is inciting religious violence across India. While the country is going through a pandemic, Goswami is trying to vitiate the atmosphere with religious hatred.”
Asked about the Supreme Court’s stay on all FIRs except one, Trivedi told Newslaundry that the party would comply with the direction.
In a released on Twitter soon after the Supreme Court’s order, Goswami said he was grateful to the court for upholding his freedom of expression as a journalist. “There have been over 150 FIRs filed by the Congress party in a clear attempt to intimidate me and my network, especially on the Palghar incident. I’m deeply grateful that the Supreme Court has not allowed the Congress party to harass me and my network by filing hundreds of FIRs, especially in states that are Congress ruled,” he said.
Goswami did not respond to Newslaundry’s request for comment on the matter.