A month after he wrote a news story about real estate agents “illegally acquiring” 12 acres of tribal land in Kerala, a journalist with media house Madhyamam was booked by the police in Palakkad.
R Sunil was booked for “creating nuisance” in an FIR filed on September 21, which said he had attempted to “defame” the complainant, a real estate agent named Joseph Kurian. A local activist named Sukumaran was also named in the FIR. They were booked under section 120(o) of the Kerala Police Act.
The police subsequently told Newslaundry the case will be withdrawn.
Sunil, 55, has worked with Madhyamam for the last 10 years. On August 22, he on a tribal man named Chandramohan in Palakkad’s Attappady. Chandramohan had filed a complaint with the chief minister and others alleging that Kurian was attempting to take over his family’s land.
Sunil shared the story on his personal Facebook page. Sukumaran, the other person named in the FIR, shared his post.
Sunil’s report in Madhyamam.
The post shared by Sukumaran.
On September 21, Kurian filed a complaint at Agali police station. The FIR said that “with an intention to cause defamation to the complainant, the accused shared a news report on his FB account with the photos of the complainant”.
A police officer at the station told Newslaundry that Kurian is one of “four or five powerful real estate agents” in the taluka.
Sunil then posted on his social media that he had been booked just because of his reportage. “This is the crime I have committed,” he wrote.
Sunil has previously reported on alleged illegalities by real estate agents, including one last year on how Kurian had been involved in “stealing” the land of a folk singer named Nanjiyama. He’s also on government officials attempting to evict tribals in Attappady.
On September 25, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists wrote a letter to DGP Shaik Darvesh Saheb demanding action against the police officers who had registered the case against Sunil.
The statement issued by the KUWJ.
The letter said, “The case shows the misuse of the Kerala Police Act and that press freedom has been throttled. The police have misused their power to get a court order against the journalist. For such non-cognisable cases, it is usually the complainant who goes to the court.”
The union asked the DGP to crack the whip against “police officers who have broken the law and have filed the case against the journalist”.
Muralidharan, the DSP of Attappady, told Newslaundry the case had been filed on the basis of a “local court order” and that the police had approached the court, because the accused “did not turn up at the police station” after the FIR had been registered.
However, Muralidharan said the police were “withdrawing the case” as the complainant – Kurian – had decided to move a defamation suit.
Newslaundry called Kurian multiple times for comment but he did not respond.