The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has condemned the arrest of Andaman-based journalist Zubair Ahmed for posting a tweet on COVID19.
The IJU said it was shocked to learn that journalist Ahmed was arrested for simply posting a tweet asking a question as to why a family was forced to remain in home quarantine following one of its member’s speaking to a COVID19 patient over telephone.
Ahmed was arrested on Monday. However, he was granted interim bail on Tuesday afternoon.
Ahmed is the editor of ‘Light of Andaman’, a popular weekly newspaper, which is now published online.
He was summoned to the Bambooflat police station in South Andaman district on April 27 for questioning over his tweet and was arrested, the police said on April 28.
On Monday, Ahmed had raised a question for the Andaman administration on his Twitter handle asking them why families who spoke to Covid-19 patients over the phone were put under home quarantine.
The journalist was charged under IPC sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 505 (1) that relates to publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report.
Sections 51 and 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 were also slapped against him.
The IJU is enraged at the statement of the Andaman director general of police (DGP) justifying police action on Ahmed.
In a statement, DGP Dependra Pathak said: “Such messages instigate distrust among public for the well-established and universal health and contact-tracing protocols, thus motivating people to conceal correct information, falsify their statements, do not cooperate and/or protest against medical protocols and even break the lockdown and gather in large numbers publicly.”
Condemning the police action on the journalist, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary general Sabina Inderjit said journalists of the country are at the frontline of the battle along with doctors and health workers against the coronavirus risking their lives.
They emphasised that raising questions and asking clarification for any action of the authority is part of responsible journalism.
The IJU in a statement said “the police and the authorities are creating panic among the people by illogically forcing people who wanted to know wellbeing of Covid-19 infected friends and relatives over phone to go for quarantine”.
The IJU reiterated that “fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression on the basis of which freedom of press stands, cannot override even in an emergency by any other act, except some reasonable restrictions”.
The IJU demanded the withdrawal of the cases against Ahmed and also asked the Andaman authority to respect freedom of the press and create an environment where media can perform its duty without fear and coercion.