Sheikh Safiqul Islam, a journalist in West Bengal who runs a web news channel named Arambagh TV, was arrested by the West Bengal police on June 29. Along with him, his wife Alima Khatun and journalist Suraj Ali Khan working in the web channel were also arrested.
Arambagh TV has been facing action from the state govt after it had questioned the Mamata Banerjee government over making donations to various clubs in the state during the Coronavirus pandemic. After the channel exposed that many of clubs which had received grants from the government actually does not exist, several FIRs were filed against the channel and its owner Sheikh Safiqul Islam.
Earlier, the police had filed cases under sections 420, 468, 469, 471, 500, 505, 120B of the IPC against the channel and its owner. Safiqul had got bail in two of the cases filed against him from Kolkata High Court. Now, the police have arrested them in fresh charges of extortion, according to reports. The new charge was filed just days after the channel aired the visuals of police taking bribes from trucks.
Reportedly, they were arrested after some person filed a case against them alleging that they had threatened to publish a report of illegal tree cutting by that person if they were not paid Rs 30,000. That person claimed that Journalist Suraj had demanded the money from him despite being told that trees were cut as per Panchayat’s order.
Safiqul, his wife and the journalists were arrested just few hours after the fresh FIR was registered by police. They were arrested even before they could approach any court for bail. West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar had tweeted on 29th June that Safiqul Islam was arrested for expose of govt in distributing public money to non-existent clubs. “If journalists are silenced, so is democracy,” he had tweeted.
While national media is oblivious to the attack on Arambagh TV by West Bengal police, sections of civil society have started to demand the release of arrested persons. retired Supreme Court Justice Asok K Ganguly, former State Chief Secretary Ardhendu Sen, filmmakers Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Aparna Sen and Tarun Majumdar and others have issued a statement demanding their release.
“These persons were treated in this way not for any heinous crime like murder, rape or dacoity, but only for broadcasting news critical of the State. The way the police surrounded their houses, broke down the doors and carried them off to the police station along with their minor children, bodes ill for our democracy and the Constitution,” the statement said.
After the arrests, no new report has been posted on the Arambagh TV’s YoutTube Channel. The last few videos posted on 29th June show police and people in plainclothes surrounding the house of Safiqul. Some of them are seen trying to break a window using sticks. One video shows some persons trying to enter the house through the roof using a ladder.