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Uttar Pradesh police lodge FIR against the editor of The Wire for ‘objectionable article’ against Yogi Adityanath

The Uttar Pradesh police on Wednesday lodged two FIRs against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of news portal The Wire, on charges of allegedly wrongly attributing a quote to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on the Ram Navami festival controversy.

The registration of the FIR is a blatant attack on the freedom of the press, Mr. Varadarajan said in his response. Both FIRs were lodged in Ayodhya district, one of them by the officer-in-charge of Faizabad Kotwali. The cases were booked under Sections 188 (disobedience to order) and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the Indian Penal Code. One of the FIRs also curiously invokes Section 66D of the IT Act, which deals with punishment for cheating by personation by using computer resource.

The matters pertains to an article published in The Wire on March 31 in the backdrop of the controversy over the Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi. The line in the article found objectionable by the Uttar Pradesh police allegedly linked Mr. Adityanath to saying that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.

Mr. Varadarajan tweeted the paragraph while sharing the news article. “On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Adityanath insisted on a large Ram Navami fair planned for Ayodhya from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual and that ‘Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’,” the tweet read.

Clarification issued

The following day on April 1 in the afternoon, Mr. Varadarajan issued a clarification that Mr. Adityanath did not utter the words about Lord Ram saving devotees against the coronavirus. “I should clarify that it was Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself,” Mr. Varadarajan tweeted.

The article on The Wire was also edited with the clarification. “In an earlier version of the story, the quote about Ram saving devotees from the coronavirus was wrongly attributed to Yogi Adityanath. It was in fact said by Acharya Paramhans, head of the official Ram temple trust,” the article said.

The FIR lodged on the complaint of officer-in charge of Faizabad Kotwali Nitish Kumar Shrivastava on Wednesday evening accused Mr. Varadarajan of spreading discord, enmity ad rumours through his post. It also accused Mr. Varadarajan of making “undignified” comments against Mr. Adityanath.

Mritunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Mr. Adityanath, said despite “our warnings, he [Mr. Varadarajan] did not delete his lies and neither sought an apology.”

“FIR has been lodged. Further action is being taken,” Mr. Kumar said in a tweet. In an earlier tweet on April 1 morning, Mr. Kumar warned Mr. Varadarajan that action would be taken against him and a defamation case lodged if he did not delete the post. “Along with running the website, [you] will have to seek donations to fight the case,” Mr. Kumar taunted the editor.

‘Politically motivated’

In a statement issued late on Wednesday, Mr. Varadarajan said he had come to know about the FIRs through social media. “A bare perusal of the FIR shows that it is politically motivated and the offences invoked are not even remotely made out,” Mr. Varadarajan said.

The government of Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh does not seem to have learnt anything despite the strictures passed against it by the Supreme Court in June 2019 when the court ordered the release of the journalist Prashant Kanojia whom the State had illegally arrested, he said. The right to liberty is a fundamental right and non-negotiable, the court had said, added Mr. Varadarajan.

“What the FIR says I have stated — that Chief Minister Adityanath attended a public religious event in Ayodhya on March 25 after the Prime Minister had announced a national lockdown — is a matter of record,” he said.

In another statement, the founding editors of The Wire condemned the FIRs and said the offences invoked in them were “not even remotely made out and that it is aimed at stifling legitimate expression and factual information.”

“The Uttar Pradesh police seem to think its job is to go after those who criticise the Chief Minister,” they said, calling the FIR a blatant attack on the freedom of the press.

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 12:34:57 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/uttar-pradesh-police-lodge-fir-against-the-editor-of-the-wire-siddharth-varadarajan/article31231478.ece

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