On March 18, 2023, police in the Indian state of Haryana arrested Jaspal Singh, a TV journalist who reports part-time for the local broadcaster News18 Haryana, from his home in the city of Ratia, according to news reports and Rajesh Kundu, editor of the news website The Ink, who is familiar with the case and spoke with CPJ by phone.
Police arrested Singh after a first information report was filed earlier that day by the Ratia Sadar police station in the state’s Fatehabad district, which opened an investigation into Singh and an unnamed journalist based on a complaint by the son of a local official, according to those sources and a copy of the report reviewed by CPJ.
Sumit Kumar, the son of Lakshman Napa, a member of the Haryana legislative assembly with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, filed that complaint, accusing the two journalists of defaming his father’s “political image” through their alleged false posts on two WhatsApp groups claiming the lawmaker was involved in illegal gambling activities and questioning why police had not apprehended him.
Kumar also accused Singh of targeting his father because the legislator belongs to a vulnerable caste group protected under Indian law. Although the complaint notes that the posts were widely distributed, CPJ was unable to review the posts, which were published in two private WhatsApp groups with around 400 members.
Singh regularly posts political commentary in those groups in his individual capacity and as a journalist, Kundu said.
Kundu told CPJ that he believes Singh was targeted for being a journalist, as other members posted the same allegations but only Singh and the unidentified journalist were mentioned in the complaint.
The first information report says that Singh is under investigation for extortion, defamation, transmitting obscene material in electronic form, and attempting to promote feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will against members of scheduled castes or tribes. Each offense can carry a punishment of two to five years’ imprisonment and an undisclosed fine.
Promoting feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will is a non-bailable offense, therefore requiring Singh to apply for bail at the Fatehabad District and Sessions Court rather than the lower court where his case was heard on March 19, Kundu told CPJ. Kundu told CPJ he did not know when Singh would be able to present his application for bail at the district and sessions court.
Kundu said he believed Singh’s arrest was excessive and had sent a chilling message to local journalists to refrain from critically reporting on elected officials.
CPJ messaged Kumar, Napa, and Fatehabad Police Superintendent Astha Modi for comment but did not receive any responses.