Protests erupt in Andhra Pradesh over scribes’ arrests (Lead)

June 25th, 2008 - 7:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Hyderabad, June 25 (IANS) The arrest of the editor and two reporters of a Telugu daily for slapping an effigy of a Dalit leader evoked widespread condemnation with activists of opposition parties and journalists taking to the streets to demand their immediate release. Protest rallies were taken out by opposition parties and journalists’ unions across the state to condemn Tuesday night arrests of the editor and two reporters amid high drama at the newspaper’s office.

K. Srinivas, editor of Andhra Jyoti, and reporters Vamshi Krishna and T. Srinivas were Wednesday sent to jail after a magistrate remanded them to judicial custody for 14 days.

Journalists, rights groups and opposition parties alleged that the Congress government was trying to stifle the press and was acting with vengeance against newspapers carrying anti-government stories.

Stating that the police action was reminiscent of Emergency days, they pointed out that the arrests were made on the 33th anniversary of the Emergency.

The journalists were arrested under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act after they slapped an effigy symbolising Manda Krishna Madiga, leader of a Dalit organisation, Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti (MRPS).

The incident took place May 26 during a rally taken out by newspaper employees in protest against the attack on their office by MRPS activists.

The Dalit outfit was protesting against an article published in the daily which described some unnamed backward classes leaders as “saleable commodities”.

MRPS leaders lodged a police complaint claiming that the slapping an effigy with footwear attracted the provisions of the act.

A police team arrested the editor and two journalists from the newspaper office Tuesday night amid heated arguments on whether slapping an effigy can come under the purview of the act.

Around midnight, they were produced before a magistrate, who remanded them to judicial custody for 14 days.

Protests broke out in several parts of the state.

The Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Rashtra Samiti, CPI, CPI-M and journalists’ unions held rallies and staged road blockades to condemn the police action. Holding black flags, the protesters raised slogans against Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

Journalists took out a rally from the Press Club, Basheerbagh, to the state Secretariat here. The police used mild force when protesters tried to move towards the secretariat, the seat of governance. A few journalists were also taken into custody.

The media persons also staged the protest during the news conference called by Home Minister K. Jana Reddy in the secretariat to give details of the case. The home minister said if necessary, the government would order an inquiry by the Crime Branch - Criminal Investigation Department (CB-CID) . The scribes later held demonstration in the secretariat premises and raised slogans.

Andhra Jyoti, one of the leading Telugu dailies, is known to be a bitter critic of the chief minister. Rajasekhara Reddy had named the newspaper publicly on several occasions, alleging that it was running a tirade against him.

The managing director of the daily, V. Radakrishna, alleged that the police action was an attack on the freedom of press and said the daily was targeted for its courageous editorial policy.

“The arrests during night time when the journalists were busy bringing out the edition are condemnable. The police could have waited for the next morning as the editor and the reporters were not murderers who would run away,” said D. Amar, chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Press Academy.

Journalists’ unions came down heavily on the government for the arrests and questioned the need for making the arrests at night. They pointed out that those who attacked the office of the daily and tried to set it afire were still at large.

The government has defended the police action. Minister for Information and Public Relations A. Ramnarayan Reddy said the government had nothing against any newspaper and it respects all media organisations and journalists.

He was talking to reporters after the chief minister held a high-level meeting with police officials.

Hyderabad police commissioner B. Prasad Rao said the arrests were made as per the law. “The case was dealt with as per the law. We registered a case, investigation was done and legal opinion was taken before the arrests,” he said.

“There is no fixed time for arrests,” said the commissioner when asked why the arrests were made at midnight.

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