Journalist held at Singhu is sent to jail for 14 days

Police have accused Mandeep Punia of obstructing them in the discharge of their duties and beating police personnel.

A Delhi court on Sunday remanded freelance journalist Mandeep Punia, who had been picked up at the Singhu protest site on Saturday evening, in 14 days’ judicial custody, his lawyer said.

Punia’s application for bail will be heard on Monday, his lawyer, Akram Khan, said.

Police have accused Punia of obstructing them in the discharge of their duties and beating police personnel.
According to the FIR, a group of protesters “clung to the policemen”, and “one of them dragged Constable Rajkumar towards the protest site”. When police used “minimal force to control the situation…the man who was dragging our constable fell in the canal”, says the FIR.

“He was identified as Mandeep Punia… Punia and the protesters who came along with him obstructed police personnel in their duty and also thrashed them,” the FIR says.

Khan told The Indian Express that Punia (25) was produced before a magistrate inside Tihar jail. “We will argue for his bail, which is listed at Rohini court tomorrow,” Khan said.

In their application for bail, Punia’s lawyers have said that “no information was given to his family members until late last night regarding his detention or possible arrest”. It was only after a fellow journalist reached the police station to file a missing person’s complaint, that some indication was given that Punia had been detained, they have said.

The application also states that the accused was “merely carrying out his journalistic duties and another journalist was detained along with him but was released around midnight (on Saturday)”.

Police have said that this other journalist, Dharmendra Singh, was allowed to go after he showed them his press card. Punia’s lawyers have argued that since he (Punia) was a freelance journalist, not carrying a press card “can be no grounds for a case or arrest”.

“The offences as alleged in the FIR are not made out against him. The FIR was registered at around 1.21 am (on Sunday) despite him being allegedly part of a scuffle at around 6.40 pm the previous evening. In such a simple case where the accused is allegedly apprehended on the spot and where the complainant and alleged victim are police officers, this approximate seven-hour delay has to be considered significant,” the bail application states.

Punia has been charged under Sections 186 (voluntarily obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.

Punia, who belongs to Jhajjar in Haryana, graduated from Panjab University, Chandigarh. He studied journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) during 2016-17, and has been writing for The Caravan magazine. He has three older sisters, and his mother (76), lives in Jhajjar.

His wife Leelashree (29), is a research scholar at Panjab University. She was present during a protest at the Delhi Police headquarters on Jai Singh Road on Sunday.

“If they start suppressing their (journalists’) voices, society will be silenced. This is very unfortunate. I got a call from the police today at 10 am that an FIR has been lodged at Alipur thana. They told me to get some clothes for him. But why this happened at 10 am is something I do not understand…this incident happened around 6 pm the previous day. I didn’t even know where he was. I got conflicting reports… What is this but a form of torture? We have hope, though, that things will get better,” she said.

Around 50 people, including students and journalists, were present at the protest.

Journalists also protested in Panchkula town, and said they would hold a series of protests against Punia’s arrest. The journalists of Chandigarh and Fatehabad town of Haryana have announced protests on Monday.

Hours before he was detained, Punia had gone live on Facebook alleging that police had allowed men claiming to be locals to pelt the protesters at Singhu with stones on Friday. “Punia’s arrest came hours after he questioned the role of the police,” K B Pandit, president of the Indian Journalists Union, said.

Chandigarh Press Club secretary general Saurabh Duggal said Punia had been reporting on the farmers’ agitation since the beginning.

With ENS, Chandigarh

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