Is Vinod Verma’s arrest attack on freedom of press?

Chhattisgarh police on Friday arrested senior journalist Vinod Verma, from Ghaziabad’s Indirapuram on charges of blackmailing and extortion, reported news agency ANI.

According to reports, the senior journalist was believed to be working on an investigative story on the Chhattisgarh government.

Verma, who earlier worked with BBC Hindi service, was picked at 3.30 am from Mahagun Mansion Apartments, Vaibhav Khand, Indirapuram by a team of Chhattisgarh Police with the help of Ghaziabad Police, Senior Superintendent of Police H N Singh said.

A case of blackmail and extortion has been registered against the scribe at Pandri police station in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh, he said.

“A huge quantity of CDs have been seized from the journalist’s house. We are scrutinising the material to check whether there is any link to sex scandal involving higher- ups,” Singh said. “Can’t reveal the details but contents of the CD violate Section 67 of IT Act,” Raipur police told ANI.

In March 2016, Verma, along with two other journalists, was part of a fact-finding committee to verify and assess the arrests of journalists in Chhattisgarh as well as threats and challenges faced by journalists in the state. The committee found that journalists were “working under tremendous pressure”. There was a “sense of fear” among journalists in the conflict-affected region of Bastar and even those working in the state capital Raipur complained of their phones being tapped, reported The Indian Express.

Verma’s colleagues also told NDTV that, he was a part of a fact-finding team of the Editors Guildlooking into the intimidation of journalists in Chhattisgarh. However, the Chhattisgarh government has claimed that Verma was working with the state’s opposition Congress to discredit the ruling BJP. It has also claimed that the journalist is related to state Congress chief Bhupesh Vaghel, reported NDTV.

“Verma has been arrested by Chhattisgarh Police in a case of extortion registered at Pandri police station (Raipur),” Uttar Pradesh Police said on Twitter. He has been charged under sections pertaining to extortion, criminal intimidation and wrongful confinement, Indian Express quoted Chhattisgarh Police officials as saying .

Reacting to his arrest, Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson Ashutosh took to his Twitter and raised several questions on Verma’s arrest and also questioned if this is an attack on media.

In a tweet, he said, “Vinod Verma Ex BBC n Amar Ujala Digital Editor has been picked up most mysteriously by UP N Chhatttisgarh Police 3.30am. Attack on press?”

Outlook India