Baltej Pannu, a Canadian freelance journalist and presenter for several Punjabi-language radio shows, was arrested over rape allegations in the Indian state of Punjab, where he has been working for the past five years, according to news reports.
Pannu is critical in his reports of the state government, run by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, which he claims has failed to curb rampant drug abuse in Punjab, news accounts said. Several of the radio shows he presents air internationally, including in the Greater Toronto area in Canada, and California, in the U.S.
Pannu has also been interviewed as a political analyst by Punjabi diaspora radio stations and posts critical commentary on social media about politics and drug problems in the state. His Facebook page has more than 34,000 followers. Pannu recently posted on social media that he had been threatened for his critical comments against the government, according to reports.
Badal and his family members hold key positions in the state government. Pannu has claimed members of the ruling party have close links to drug traffickers and organized crime, according to news reports citing Pannu’s supporters. The Badals have denied such accusations.
According to the Hindustan Times, which cited a legal complaint filed on November 25, 2015, Pannu allegedly forced a woman to have sex with him against her wishes over several months and then refused to marry her, The alleged sexual assaults happened about five years ago, the report said.
Pannu was charged with rape under section 376 of India’s penal code; cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property under section 420; and criminal intimidation under section 506, one of Pannu’s lawyers, Mohit Kapoor, told the Canada-based Punjabi language channel 5aab TV in a phone interview.
Pannu denies the allegations, according to local reports. Local reports said that during his court hearing, the journalist said, “I am being framed only because I speak the truth. Because every day I speak out against the system, against the government … This is a way for the government to silence me. It’s a way to silence journalists like me who speak up.”
Police claimed they asked Pannu to appear before them during a preliminary investigation, but he failed to do so, which led to his arrest, the Hindustan Times reported.
Kanwar Sandhu, a prominent Punjabi journalist and former executive editor of The Tribune, a Chandigarh-based newspaper popular in several of India’s states, said he believed the arrest was politically motivated. Balbir Singh, a member of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party, claimed the arrest was a politically motivated move to silence Pannu, who has exposed alleged failures of the government, according to the Hindustan Times.
More than 3,000 residents from Brampton, a city in Ontario, Canada, where Pannu used to work, gathered at a convention center on November 28, 2015 to protest his arrest in India, reports said.