Chhattisgarh police arrest journalist for ‘fake news’, add charges of prostitution and extortion after ‘browsing through his WhatsApp chats’

swarajya recently reported that Chhattisgarh police arrested a journalist for a column in the media against the state government on March 2, accusing him of being charged under the sections of the IPC related to the “promotion enmity” and the “spreading of rumours.

This move was heavily criticized by the local media fraternity.

Now police have brought additional charges of trafficking and earnings from prostitution against the journalist even as his family and local media have called the decision a witch hunt.

The FIR against the journalist

Nilesh Sharma, 38, runs a portal named “Indiawriters.co.in” and a magazine named Indian writers. He writes a column called “Gurhwa Ke Maati”, which is said to be very popular.

Last month, he wrote a column about Congress leader and state health minister TS Singhdeo’s endless wait to become chief minister as promised.

In 2018, when the state went to elections, the Congress party came to power. However, chaos soon erupted as supporters of two big leaders – current chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and Singhdeo – wanted their man to be chief minister.

Senior party officials in Delhi suggested a compromise, where the two were to serve as chief minister for two and a half years each. The order was verbal and given only to calm clashes between party workers.

More than two and a half years have passed since then, but Baghel is still the chief minister of the state.

The FIR was registered on March 2 at Raipur Civil Lines Police Station on the statement of a local Congress volunteer named Khilawan Nishan (FIR number 133/2022). At that time, the police invoked ICC Sections 504 (intentionally insulting), 505(1)(b) (spreading rumours) and 505(2) (statements encouraging enmity) against Sharma.

Here is the content of Nishan’s complaint:

That he has been an active member of Congress for the past 20 years and supports both Bhupesh Baghel and TS Singhdeo.

Various media publications attempt to defame Congress leaders and spread fake news with a secret agenda. They are part of “godi media”. A few months ago, a portal “Pawan News” published fake news against TS Singhdeo for which he (Nishan) filed a complaint with the police and the journalist was later arrested.

Another portal named “indiawriters.co.in” which publishes a column named “Ghurwa Ke Mati” has long spread fake news aimed at negatively affecting the popularity of the government and creating rowdiness among party officials and workers. An article titled “Wah Wah Khel Shuru Ho Gaya” published on March 1, 2022 contains misleading facts.

A fictitious enmity between members of the Congress party has been reported, which appears to have been written with a secret agenda to defame the Congress government and the Congress party and, above all, to slander the image of “Maharaj Saheb” (Singhdeo ).

The use of words in this article makes it clear that the portal agenda is evil. A careful reading of the contents clearly shows that the purpose of this article is not only to spread rumors but also to weaken the image, popularity and hold of the Congress government among the people of the state. This is unbearable for a congressional rank-and-file worker like (Nishan).

Said portal has constantly tried to kill democracy by abusing the freedom of expression granted to the press and the media. The police must ban the portal and arrest the journalist (sic).

The journalist was arrested the same day. In the same week, the police transferred Sharma from Raipur to Bilaspur prison, which is more than 100 kilometers from Sharma’s home.

More fees now added

A press release was recently issued by the Civil Lines Police indicating that the police have added Sections 67(a) of the ICC (penalty for the publication or transmission of material containing sexually explicit acts) to the Computer Act, as well as that Sections 4 (penalty for living on the earnings of prostitution) and 5 (pimping, inducing or abducting a person for the purpose of prostitution) of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA) in this case .

The press note, which curiously bears no date or signature at the end, lists seven points regarding the ongoing investigation against Sharma.

The memo says that at the time of the arrest, police seized Sharma’s mobile phone and new allegations were added after going through the contents of the phone.

The note says Sharma’s WhatsApp chats show he was into extortion. Some of the chats are with “prostitutes”. Police also found pornographic content on the cellphone, the note said.

Sharma was part of an online group where he exchanged information with others, and all racketeered “fake news”, the note said.