Journalists across Andhra Pradesh came out on the streets on Wednesday to protest the arrest of the editor and two journalists of Andhra Jyothy, a prominent Telugu daily, on Thursday night.
Hundreds of journalists, along with the members of various political parties, took out a rally in Hyderabad from the Press Club at Basheerbagh to the Ambedkar statue at Tank Bund. They raised slogans against the YS Rajasekhara Reddy government and the police, alleging that the government was victimising Andhra Jyothy for its anti-government writings.
Over 200 journalists were taken in custody when they tried to march towards the state secretariat and the office of the director general of police.
Similar demonstrations were held in Vijaywada, Visakhapatnam, Tirupati and various other places across the state.
V Radhakrishna, the managing director of Andhra Jyothy, said, "The government is abusing its power and the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Act to threaten those who are criticising this government".
In an operation, which continued for almost three hours late on Tuesday night, editor of Andhra Jyothy K Srinivas and two journalists, Vamsi Krishna and N Srinivas, were arrested under the SC/ ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and detained at the Banjara Hills police station throughout the night.
The arrests were made on the complaint of Krishna Madiga, president of the Dalit organisation Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti, alleging that the newspaper staff had used caste-related abuses against him.
The trouble between the newspaper and the organisation started on May 26 with the publication of an article describing some Dalit leaders as a 'saleable commodity'. Angry MRPS workers attacked and ransacked the Andhra Jyothy office in Hyderabad and other places in the state.
The staffers of Andhra Jyothy organised a procession on May 27 against the MRPS, which complained that the journalists had abused them and some of them had beaten an effigy of Madiga Krishna with chappals.
Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy also objected to the articles, alleging that they denigrated the community.
On Tuesday night, a police team led by Banjara Hills Assistant Commissioner of Police Ramakrishnaiah, went to the newspaper's office to make the arrests. The staff members put up a strong resistance. Finally, Deputy Commissioner of Police (West Zone) Ravi Verma reached the office and made the arrests.
However, Radhakrishna was not arrested by the police, who claimed that there was no evidence against him. "We have made the arrests after clinching evidence was found against the other three," Ravi Verma said.
The cases have been booked under Sections 3 (1) (10) of SC /ST Act. While the Andhra Pradesh Working Union of Journalists objected to the arrests made late in the night, Hyderabad Police Commissioner B Prasad Rao defended the police, saying there was no fixed time for arrests.
K Srinivas, the editor of Andhra Jyothy, described the arrests as part of the systematic assault on the paper and other newspapers, by the state government. He pointed out that the government has also stopped its advertisements to the newspaper since a long time.
"The government is using the MRPS as a tool," he alleged.
K Srinivas and the two journalists were remanded to judicial custody till July 8 by the third additional metropolitan magistrate. They were taken to the Chanchalguda jail, but the jail authorities refused to admit them in the night, as it would have been violation of the prison rules. The police brought them back to the police station and they were shifted to Chanchalguda jail on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, journalists boycotted the press conference of the state Home Minister K Jana Reddy, to present the government's version of the incident.
The minister claimed that the government had nothing to do with the arrest. "Police took the action in accordance with the law," Reddy said.
When he rejected the demands for an inquiry by the Criminal Investigation Department and the immediate release of the trio, the reporters walked out of the press conference.
State information minister A Ramanarayana Reddy and police commissioner B Prasad Rao were also present at the press conference but they refused to comment on the matter.