New York, March 17, 2023 – Authorities in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh should drop any investigation launched in retaliation for journalist Sanjay Rana’s work and allow him to report freely and safely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
At around 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, police in Uttar Pradesh arrested Rana, a 19-year-old reporter for the privately owned newspaper Moradabad Ujala, from his home in the Budh Nagar Khandwa village of Sambhal district, according to multiple news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
He was released on bail Monday evening, according to those sources.
The Chandausi police station in Sambhal filed a first information report dated March 12, which opened a criminal investigation into the journalist on the basis of a complaint by Shubham Raghav, a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s youth wing, who alleged that Rana was “fake journalist,” disrupted government work, and assaulted and threatened him at a political event in Budh Nagar Khandwa on March 11.
Rana denied all wrongdoing and said that the arrest and investigation were launched in retaliation for his work. Raghav told CPJ by phone that he stood by the allegations in his complaint.
“The arrest and investigation of journalist Sanjay Rana appear to be retaliatory measures aimed at silencing his critical questioning of a state official,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately drop any investigation brought against Rana in retaliation for his work and ensure that journalists can work without fear of reprisal.”
The first information report says that Rana is under investigation for violating sections of the penal code pertaining to voluntarily causing hurt, intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace, and criminal intimidation.
At that March 11 event, Rana questioned Gulab Devi, a BJP member in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly and state minister for secondary education, about her alleged failure to deliver on her electoral promises regarding development projects in Budh Nagar Khandwa. The journalist told CPJ that he believed the case was retaliation for those questions.
During his arrest, officers grabbed Rana by the collar, slapped him, and tied his hands with a rope, the journalist told CPJ. He was originally held in the Baniyakhed police station, outside the jurisdiction where he lives.
Rana’s editor and lawyer, Dharmendra Singh, told CPJ in a phone interview that he and Rana’s family spent Sunday night frantically searching for the journalist before he was transferred to Chandausi police station the next morning.
Police arrested Rana under a clause of the criminal procedure code allowing for authorities to conduct arrests without a warrant in the cases of more serious crimes, known as cognizable offenses; however, the offenses listed in the first information report concerning his case are all non-cognizable, according to those news reports and a Delhi-based lawyer familiar with the case, who spoke with CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.
CPJ called and messaged Devi and Sambhal Police Superintendent Chakresh Mishra for comment, but did not receive any replies.