COVID-19: Journalists Bear the Brunt of Ambiguous Lockdown Rules
New Delhi: Ambiguity surrounding the lockdown measures imposed in the wake of fears over the coronavirus pandemic have left room for harassment of journalists by law enforcement officials. On Monday night, media personnel who were returning home after duty hours faced harassment by the Hyderabad city police.
According to a report in The Hindu, its Telangana chief of bureau Ravi Reddy was abused and assaulted on Monday night by two sub-inspectors and three constables of Begumpet police station even after he showed them papers identifying himself as a journalist.
The incident took place around 10:15 pm when Reddy was on his way home on the first day of the lockdown.
The issue was then brought to the notice of DGP M. Mahender Reddy, Hyderabad commissioner of police Anjani Kumar, DCP (North) Kalmeshwar Shingenavar and other police officials, who enquired about the incident from Reddy.
As per the government order, print and electronic media have been recognised as essential services during the lockdown for containment of the spread of COVID-19 in Telangana.
Close to a dozen journalists, including women, were waiting for barricades to be removed and, after ascertaining their identities as journalists, requested the police to allow them to pass through as they were a part of essential services. The police then verbally abused them, got into a heated argument with them and then forced them to take some other route.
After the barrage of lathi-charge and harassment, the journalists took up the issue of violation of exemptions to the media granted by the state government with senior police officials.
The incident has prompted concerns over intimidation of journalists during the remainder of the lockdown.
Delhi journalist Navin Kumar tweeted that the Delhi police had harassed him and, after taking away his car keys, snatching his wallet and phone, had beaten and hurled verbal abuses at him. “I am writing this so people know that there is a great difference between what we speak, what we write and the reality we live in,” Kumar wrote.
The incident comes despite a notice by the central government asking states and Union territories to ensure that print and electronic media outlets remain operational. The notice read “at this juncture, robust and essential dissemination networks” were of utmost importance. “The proper functioning of these networks is required not only to create awareness among people and to give important messages but also to keep the nation updated of the latest status,” the notice read.
Another journalist said that the Mumbai police was harassing the media personnel and office staff members involved the transportation of those who were reporting.
As the lockdown came into effect across several parts of the country, hundreds of people were booked for violating norms and were issued warnings of arrest with jail terms up to a year if the violations continued.
According to a report in the Hindustan Times, there was confusion at several places in Punjab as the police stopped commercial vehicles carrying essentials. In Punjab’s Khanna, the alleged violators were forced to perform sit-ups as punishments for coming out of their homes by the police.
The Mumbai police filed 31 cases against violators and a large number of people were asked to return to their homes. In Mumbai’s Kalyan’s Dombivli area, the police forced a group of youngsters to do sit-ins for coming out on bikes in violation of the lockdown.
Over 200 cases were filed against around 1,000 people for violating protocols in Uttar Pradesh across 16 districts, where a complete lockdown was announced on Sunday. A Lucknow resident told HT that she was stopped at several places when she went to buy goods for the Navratri festival. “Potatoes was being sold for Rs 40 a kg, which was earlier available for Rs 30. Tomatoes were for Rs 50 per kg…,” she said.