Row over Journalist arrest over Chhattisgarh minister’s ‘sex CD’
NEW DELHI/ GHAZIABAD/ RAIPUR
SEVERAL JOURNALISTS’ BODIES including Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Federation of Press Clubs in India and Press Association have expressed deep concern over the arrest of senior journalist Vinod Verma. They are particularly aghast over the manner in which senior journalist was picked up by the Uttar Pradesh police in the early hours of October 27 on charges filed by the Chattisgarh police.
“The manner in which the arrest was done is shocking as Verma was not evading the arms of the law and neither was he absconding. The move by the state government appears to be intimidating and does not serve the course of justice. We urge a dispassionate and fair inquiry be conducted into the charges without any kind of pressure or harassment of Vinod Verma or his family” “ journalist bodies said in a statement.
Vindo Verma was arrested from his house in Indirapuram locality of Ghaziabad early on Friday for being part of an alleged conspiracy to extort money from a prominent Chhattisgarh minister triggered a slugfest between Congress and BJP.
Vinod Verma, formerly with BBC Hindi and Amar Ujala, who is now associated with Congress’s media cell, was picked up from his house around 4 am. He rejected the extortion charge and said he had a “sex clip” of PWD minister Rajesh Munat, which he wanted to release shortly.
BJP threw its lot behind Munat, claiming that the purported sex clip was fake and rejected the demand for the minister’s resignation. Munat, a prominent BJP face and a trusted associate of Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh, himself stepped out to claim that he was victim of a conspiracy to slander his reputation. “It is doctored, cent per cent fake, and a clear attempt at character assassination,” he told media.
Police in Raipur said Verma was arrested following a complaint about an extortion call to Prakash Bajaj, member of Chhattisgarh BJP’s IT cell.
The police is yet to identify the caller. They have not gone through the contents of the sex CD either. Yet, they moved with speed and within 12 hours of filing of the complaint at Pandari police station in Chhattisgarh on Thursday, the police had zeroed in on the shopkeeper in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar who was allegedly given the order to make 1,000 copies of the CD. The shopkeeper directed the Chhattisgarh cops to Verma, who was picked up on Friday.
The police team claimed to have seized around 500 CDs, pen drives, a laptop, two cellphones and a diary, besides Rs 2.24 lakh in cash from the house of Verma, who is related to Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel.
“During investigation, it was found that a person named Vinod Verma had asked the shopowner to make 1,000 copies of the CD. His number was traced and his address found. A police team raided his residence at Indirapuram and arrested him, seizing 500 CDs, pen drives, laptop and cash,” Chhattisgarh police said.
Verma denied making an extortion call or asking the Lajpat Nagar shopkeeper to make copies of the Chhattisgarh minister’s CD but admitted that he had the sex clip allegedly featuring Munat stored on his laptop and a pen drive. He said he decided to circulate the CD after four media outlets he had approached refused to run it, adding that Chhattisgarh police arrested him to pre-empt the release.
“My phone was being tapped and police swung into action at the behest of the minister and arrested me before I could reveal the contents of the clip. I have not made a single extortion call to anyone. I am being framed,” he said, adding that the police had planted CDs in his house.
Verma claimed that Munat’s case was just “the tip of the iceberg” and added that sex CDs of eight more politicians of the ruling party existed. He said the purported CD of the Chhattisgarh minister was a minute long, and a truncated 31-second version had been in circulation among politicians in the state for some time. He said he got a copy of the clip only on October 24.
Chhattisgarh PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel defended Verma and said merely having a copy of the sex CD didn’t make him an accused. “The government has taken extraordinary interest in arresting a senior journalist within hours of the complaint being lodged. Why doesn’t it show similar interest in other things?” he asked.