Chandigarh: Punjab and Haryana High Court on Saturday granted interim bail to journalist Bhawana Kishore, a day after she and two others were arrested by Punjab Police when their vehicle allegedly hit a woman, injuring her hand.
Several journalist bodies condemned the police action after the TV reporter was booked under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, besides charges for rash driving, and "detained".
The Editors Guild said the FIR registered against the reporter at a Ludhiana police station "appears excessive and with undue haste".
In a statement, Times Now Navbharat claimed its journalist Kishore, cameraman Mrityunjay and a driver were arrested by the Ludhiana Police on charges of “rash driving and insulting Dalits” after a series of "orchestrated events".
The media organisation also alleged that Kishore was held without the presence of any woman police personnel in the car and that she was denied legal and telephone access and was arrested post-sunset.
The journalist had moved the high court seeking quashing of the FIR.
Kishore's counsel Chetan Mittal said the court has granted interim bail to her and fixed May 8 as the next date of hearing in the matter.
The Punjab police had said the television journalist along with two others was arrested in Ludhiana on Friday after their vehicle allegedly hit a woman, resulting in an injury to her hand. They were also accused of using derogatory language against the complainant.
In its statement, the TV channel said it had been invited to cover an AAP political programme hosted by Delhi Chief MInister Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwat Mann in Ludhiana.
It alleged that a group of women in an e-rickshaw rammed their vehicle into the journalist's car and got into a brawl, adding that it has reasons to believe that the women were "motivated AAP workers".
It claimed that it has been subjected to harassment over the coverage of the story on the expenditure incurred in the renovation of Kejriwal's official residence under its programme Operation Sheeshmahal.
The Editors Guild of India said given that the reporter was on an assignment, law enforcement agencies should have exercised due restraint with respect to detention and subsequent filing of an FIR.
"EGI urges the Punjab government to release the journalist from detention and direct its police to follow the established procedures," the guild said.
In its statement, Times Now Navbharat said that the male police personnel who accompanied Bhavana Kishore was not wearing a name badge, which is a mandatory requirement on duty.
“This is not just blatant misuse of the State machinery for vendetta but also misuse and disrespect of the SC/ ST Act which is being invoked wrongly and without any basis to intimidate. Times Network is seeking legal recourse and cooperating with the investigating authorities,” the media organisation said.
The Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC), the National Union of Journalists (India) and the Press Club of India (PCI) condemned the arrest of the reporter, her cameraperson and their car's driver.
"The IWPC demands immediate relief to the young reporter, cameraperson and the driver," it said in a statement.
"As women police personnel were not present when the reporters were detained, we urge the authorities to take strict action against the erring police personnel for not following police norms required to be observed while arresting a woman," the IWPC said.
The PCI termed the reporter's arrest as a "blatant attack on the rights of a journalist".
"We demand immediate withdrawal of fake and lopsided charges made against her by Punjab Police and seek Punjab chief minister's intervention in this matter," it said.
The South Asian Women in Media also demanded that the matter be investigated and sought the immediate release of the journalists.
The Punjab Police action was "a direct attack on the fourth estate" and "a new low" for democratic values in the country, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said.
Punjab Governor Banwarilal Purohit on Saturday took up the issue with Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann and said such incidents “do not give a good message about the state”, official sources said.
The governor called up Mann and conveyed his sentiments over the arrest of the woman journalist, they said.
He also urged the chief minister to get the journalist released.