Police has registered a case against a journalist named Poonam Agarwal, who had carried out a “sting operation” for the website The Quint at Deolali cantonment in Nashik, Maharashtra.
Poonam had entered the cantonment with hidden cameras concealing her identity as a journalist, and recorded videos that showed army jawans employed as sahayaks (helpers) indulged in doing menial jobs that they should not be doing.
She talked to a jawan Lance Naik Roy Mathew in particular, who allegedly had no idea that he was talking to a journalist, and the conversation was used to prove that jawans were not happy with the sahayak system and that they were being exploited.
A few days later, Roy Mathew was found dead in an abandoned barrack in the cantonment. A diary was recovered from the barrack, which suggested that the jawan was under pressure and it was a case of suicide. Roy Mathew’s family members also confirmed that he was scared and under pressure as his identity was reported to have been revealed due to the “sting operation” and subsequent media coverage.
This ensued public outrage and people blamed The Quint and Poonam Agarwal to have indulged in unethical practices that finally took away life of an army jawan. People pointed out that there was no need to do a “sting operation” on a “victim” (a sahayak) especially when the sahayak system has been debated for long and it was not something that needed a sting operation (ethics of which are already debatable).
An NGO named Citizen4Forces argued that there as a case against Poonam Agarwal and they lodged a complaint with Delhi Police regarding the same. Around the same time, Army too had started its investigations and lodged a complaint with Nashik Police, though they did not name anyone back then.
A report in The Indian Express now suggests that the Army too considers Poonam Agarwal guilty of jawan’s death and they have submitted an application conveying the same to the Nashik Police. Army has reportedly asked the police to treat the application as complaint, following which the police is reported to have registered a case against Poonam Agarwal.
The journalist has been booked under Sections 3 (spying) and 7 (interfering with members of the Armed forces) of the Official Secrets Act (pdf), for trespassing (as she entered the cantonment without permissions and without revealing her true identity), and for abetment of suicide under the IPC.
Army has also accused Poonam Agarwal of asking “leading questions” to Roy Mathews and filming at a prohibited area.
The website The Quint, which had quietly deleted their reports, videos, and social media posts around the sting operation as soon as the news of jawan’s death was public, hasn’t been named as one of the guilty parties, going by the Indian Express report.
The journalist Poonam Agarwal is still defending her conduct and claiming that these charges are “afterthought” by the army. The police is reported to have questioned her and recorded her statement.
Now it needs to be seen how the mainstream media and its talking heads react to this incident and whether they term this case as an “attack on freedom of press”.