Post attack by BJP members, journalists in Raipur wear helmets to meet Madhya Pradesh saffron party leaders

Journalists in Raipur, the capital city of Chhattisgarh on Wednesday took to the streets to demand better safety for media persons and donned helmets while interacting with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers.

Raipur Press Club president Damu Amedare told The Print that at least 500-600 city reporters are protesting an incident of a journalist being thrashed, by wearing helmets and conducting bike rallies. A bike rally was also organised on Tuesday, where slogans were shouted in front of the BJP’s office. "Whether it’s an event, press conference, meeting, or even taking a sound byte, we won’t stand for a threat to our safety," he said.

The move comes after a local journalist, identified as Suman Pandey, was allegedly thrashed on 2 February by BJP functionaries while he was recording a meeting of the party's district-level meeting in the city.

Following the incident, BJP district chief Rajeev Agarwal and party workers Vijay Vyas, Utkarsh Trivedi and Deena Dongre were arrested. The four, who were booked under Indian Penal Code Sections 342 (wrongful confinement), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (criminal intimidation) and 34 (common intention) were later released on a bail bond from the police station.

As per the report from The Print, journalists in Raipur participating in the helmet protests have two demands from the BJP: Removal of Agarwal from the party and a new law for the protection of journalists, as was being considered by Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel.

What was the incident?

Pandey's complaint alleged that he was thrashed when he was covering the BJP meeting Saturday afternoon at its Ekatma Parisar office in Raipur, adding that leaders there were involved in a scuffle among themselves when the incident happened.

"I was recording a video of the meeting on my mobile phone when suddenly BJP leaders started manhandling each other over some issue. Meanwhile, BJP Raipur district president Rajeev Agarwal and another person, Utkarsh Trivedi, asked me to delete the video of the scuffle, which I refused. They then started hitting me and forcefully deleted the video," Pandey told PTI.

"I was made to sit inside the meeting room for about 20 minutes. When I came out, I informed other journalists about the incident," he added.

Later, several other journalists reached the BJP office, alerted police and protested there demanding the arrest of those involved in assaulting Pandey. State BJP spokesperson Sacchidanand Upasane, who was also present in the meeting, said his partymen had apologised to Pandey.

"The closed-door district level meeting was held to review the defeat in the recent Assembly election. Media persons were asked to leave the meeting room after taking initial footage. Party leaders and workers were also asked to keep their mobile switched off," he said.

"On finding a man recording the video of the meeting, he was told to stop it and asked to delete the footage. After he introduced himself as a journalist, party leaders said he should delete the video," Upasane said.

"A minor scuffle broke out between the journalist and party leaders over the issue, following which I asked the journalist to sit there for a while and later told him to go outside," he said. When party leaders saw journalists protesting at the venue, the former apologised, Upasane said. He said the BJP state president would look into the incident.

Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh Health and Family Welfare Minister TS Singhdeo termed the incident as "unfortunate".

"It was an unfortunate incident and this should not have happened with anyone. Such a kind of incident is unacceptable and stern action should be taken," Singhdeo told reporters.

Protests staged earlier this week as well

Peeved over the incident, local journalists sat on an indefinite protest in front of the Raipur Press Club in the Motibagh area on Sunday demanding the expulsion of the accused from the BJP.

Although state BJP president Dharamlal Kaushik and former minister Brijmohan Agrawal met the protesting journalists it did not break the ice.

"They refused to take any immediate action against the accused BJP leaders and said they will first demand an explanation from them following which action will be taken," Raipur Press Club vice president Prafull Thakur said.

"We are sitting on an indefinite protest in front of the press club till our demand to expel the accused leaders is fulfilled," Thakur said.

According to news portal ANI, a torch rally was held as well.

In the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, India was ranked 138 out of 180 countries in terms of press safety. The report mentioned sharing of "hate speeches" targeting journalists by "troll armies" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a reason for this low rank. The report also mentioned "physical violence" against journalists, for example, the murder of Gauri Lankesh as another key reason.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 11:24:39 IST

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