Indian journalist Tanveer Warsi was arrested in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, on July 22, 2021. Rajgarh district authorities allege that he illegally ran a daily newspaper without government approval, and also committed other crimes.
Warsi is the editor of Prabhat Sanket, a privately owned Hindi-language newspaper based in the Rajgarh district of the central state of Madhya Pradesh, and is also a regular freelance contributor to the privately owned news channel NDTV and news agency Asian News International, according to Newsclick and the journalist’s wife, Zarina Khan, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Rajgarh police opened an investigation into Warsi on May 22, 2021, accusing him of 13 counts of violating the Indian Penal Code as well as breaking two state-based laws; the allegations include culpable homicide not amounting to murder, cheating, abducting children, and criminal conspiracy, according to a copy of the police report, which CPJ reviewed.
Authorities claim that Warsi co-owned the CHL MD Hospital and Trauma Centre in Rajgarh, which police were investigating for suspected medical negligence after the deaths of five children, according to news reports. Khan told CPJ that the hospital was owned by Warsi’s relative, and that he was not connected to it.
After authorities opened that investigation, Warsi went into hiding and released a video on social media claiming that the authorities were targeting him for his critical reporting on the Rajgarh district administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 4, Rajgarh authorities announced a reward of 5,000 rupees (US$67) for information regarding Warsi’s whereabouts and canceled his firearm license, according to Dainik Bhaskar.
Warsi’s last report for Asian News International before his arrest included a video posted to social media covering a ceiling leak in a government-run COVID-19 hospital. A local journalist familiar with his case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity citing fear of retribution from authorities, said he believed that article could have prompted Warsi’s arrest.
On May 31, the Madhya Pradesh government’s public information department revoked Warsi’s press accreditation, according to a copy of the order reviewed by CPJ.
On June 21, the Rajgarh police opened a second investigation into Warsi, alleging that Prabhat Sanket was a weekly publication being run as a daily without permission from the Registrar of Newspapers for India, a body within the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting, and that Warsi did not have permission from the original owner of the company to run the newspaper, according to a police report, which CPJ reviewed.
Khan told CPJ that her husband bought the title of the newspaper from its original owner in January, and showed CPJ the deed of sale. She told CPJ that the process of converting the newspaper into a daily had already been completed.
On July 13, the Rajgarh police opened a third investigation into Warsi, claiming that he encroached on government land and doctored legal papers to show ownership of the land, according to a copy of the police complaint, which CPJ reviewed. Khan denied those allegations as well, saying that the land was properly bought and registered and that police had later arrested the government official on whose claim authorities opened that investigation.
On July 22, Rajgarh police arrested Warsi in Bhopal when he was visiting his family on the Eid al-Adha holiday, according to Khan.
On October 25, the Indore High Court granted Warsi bail for the investigation relating to the alleged hospital co-ownership, but he remained in detention on the other two investigations, Khan told CPJ, saying that the court was also considering bail applications in those cases.
Warsi is being held in Rajgarh Jail, she said.
According to Khan, Warsi contracted COVID-19 prior to entering prison and lost a significant amount of weight while recovering in custody.
No dates in his trial had been set as of October 2021, Khan told CPJ.
CPJ emailed Harsh Dikshit, the district collector of Rajgarh, and Neeraj Kumar Singh, the district collector when the investigations into Warsi were initiated, for comment, but did not receive any replies.