A.S. Mani, Editor of a Tamil Weekly Naveena Netrikkan, has moved the Madras High Court Bench here seeking bail in a case registered against him on the criminal charge of defamation.

The petitioner, lodged in Puzhal Central Prison at Chennai since his arrest on October 25, said that a bail application filed by him before the Principal Sessions Court in Madurai was dismissed on November 3.

The Tallakulam police here had registered the case against him, a reporter as well as the distribution agent of the magazine on the basis of a complaint lodged by N. Suresh, a State Highways Department contractor on October 23.

The complainant had claimed that the journalists demanded Rs. 1 lakh as Deepavali gift. When he refused to part with the money, they carried a defamatory news article stating that he was inciting caste conflict between two groups at Uthapuram near here.

The First Information Report (FIR) stated that the news report in the issue dated October 30 accused Mr. Suresh of yielding considerable influence over government departments. The officials had to budge to his wishes, failing which they were transferred to other places.

The FIR was registered under Sections 502 (sale of printed substance containing defamatory matter), 505 (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes), 153A (promoting enmity between two groups) and 506 part II (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.

On the other hand, the bail petition filed by Mr. Mani read: “It is a travesty of truth to say that the petitioner asked the complainant a sum of Rs.1 lakh for not writing about him. This is the cheap allegation which could be made against the press by people who are corrupt. The press freedom cannot be curtailed by meaningless allegations.”

He also said that around 30 plain clothes men arrested him at his residence in Chennai on October 25 without informing the grounds of arrest. “Nobody was informed about the arrest. The petitioner was brought to Madurai, produced before the Judicial Magistrate-II, remanded to 14 days judicial custody and sent to central prison at Puzhal,” he added.

Stating that he was ready to face trial in the case, he said: “Any pre-trial detention for the offences mentioned in the FIR is a punishment without trial.”

The reporter of the magazine, K. Pandian, had also filed an anticipatory bail application in the High Court Bench. Both these petitions would come up for hearing on Monday.

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