On Monday, journalist Dharmender Singh posted a video online to detail how he had been detained by the Delhi police on January 30. Singh, a reporter with Online News India, had been detained along with Caravan contributor Mandeep Punia while covering the farmer protests at Singhu border.
In the 12-minute video posted on YouTube, Singh said he had been at Singhu with his cameraman. The police had sealed the entry point to the protest site at that time, and labourers proceeding to their places of work had been stopped by the police.
"There was a tussle of words...and what the mazdoors allege is that the police started verbally abusing them," Singh said in the video. "I immediately took out my phone and started to record all this on my own."
Singh said he turned the camera towards the police personnel present and asked "about the allegations" being levied by the workers. "Is it right what they are saying, I asked. I don't know what offended them so much about my questions."
Singh claimed that one of the cops said, "Isko andar kheech lijeya." Pull him inside.
Singh pulled his press card out of his bag and said he was from the media and merely asking questions.
"But they didn't care," he said. "I had my ID card in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, and then I was pulled forward..." Punia was standing behind him at the time, Singh said, and asked the police: "Aap ek media karni ke saath aisa kaise kar sakte hai?" How can you do this to a media person?
"Mandeep said this and came forward," Singh said. "And then he suffered the same fate as me." Singh said he was taken to a tent, though he did not say where. The phone he had used to record was "smashed" while his other phone was "completely reformatted".
"Then, a few police officials came in and expressed regret and admitted, 'What happened to you should not have happened,'" Singh said. "So, I thought that since these people were at least showing that they were guilty, they'll let me go, and the whole issue will come to a close."
However, Singh and Punia went on to be detained by the police, though Singh's video did not detail what precisely happened, though he mentioned that they were "separated". Newslaundry learned that Singh was released at around 5 am on Sunday morning after signing an undertaking. At the time, he had no idea where Mandeep was, he said. His formatted phone was returned, but the police said they "did not know where the other phone was".
In the video, Singh asked what was "so wrong" with the question he had asked the police before his detention. "We were just working with honesty, like we always do," he said. "We don't have the facilities of mainstream media to sit on a faraway rooftop and zoom into a scene; we have to be in the thick of things and bring you the truth with our small cameras and phones. We have to go to the ground but if things turn out like what happened to me, then how do we continue? Small channels with even less resources, how will they go ahead?"
He added: "Good governance can only exist when a journalist can work independently. If the reporter is intimidated and subdued when they carry out their work, then I don't think democracy will survive...But now, we will return to reporting as we used to...We will go back to reporting without fear or favour."
Meanwhile, the police registered an FIR against Mandeep Punia. He was booked under penal code provisions related to the offences of obstructing, assaulting or voluntarily hurting public officials, and “criminal act done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all”. A Delhi court is likely to pass orders on his bail petition today.
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