Sharma is the second journalist to be arrested in the last two weeks.
Journalist Nilesh Sharma was arrested from Chhattisgarh’s Bilaspur district on Sunday for allegedly “spreading rumours on WhatsApp” about government and judiciary officers. Sharma is the editor of web portal and magazine India Writers.
The Bilaspur police confirmed the arrest toNewslaundry. Sharma has been booked under penal sections 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 505 (whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report with intent to cause fear or alarm in the public).
The police allegedly picked up Sharma after his name cropped up in connection with an investigation into another journalist earlier this month. In fact, Sharma was arrested under the same FIR – but the police refused to provide Newslaundry with a copy of it.
In the previous case on June 1, Sunil Namdev, a journalist with NewsTodayCG.com, had been arrested by the Chhattisgarh police over, among other things, a report he had written about a judge. The two stories that got Namdev under the police radar can be found here and here.
When the police raided Namdev’s house in connection with this case, they allegedly found MDMA on him and registered a case under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. Namdev is currently in judicial custody.
Additionally, the police told PTI that the investigation into this case revealed that “Sharma and Namdev had connived in publishing the controversial article”. However, the police told Newslaundry that the two had “exchanged information” related to the article, which the police allegedly found in their phone messages.
Manmeet Kaur, Namdev’s wife, told Newslaundry that the charges against him were made up. “They planted the drugs on him,” she alleged. “The government is coming for whoever has written against them. We haven't even been provided with the FIR copy so far...We have no hope left.”
This is not Sharma’s first tryst with the police. In March last year, he had been arrested under the same charges for “spreading fake news” against Congress leaders. A complainant had singled out Sharma’s political satire, Ghurwa ke Maati, for “driving a wedge between the Congress leaders” and also claimed that the journalist was a part of “Godi media”. His arrest had received national attention and he was eventually granted bail.
Chhattisgarh is one of the two states in India to have a separate law for the protection of journalists. However, the Media Personnel Security Bill, passed in March of this year, has not been received positively by many local journalists. They claim that the law is starkly different from the draft which was floated three years ago. Read all about it here.
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