Mamata Banerjee
Mamata Banerjee
Photo: PTI

The West Bengal government has often portrayed itself as being an advocate for the freedom of the media. Even recently, on World Press Freedom Day, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had called the press the "fourth pillar in a democracy" that must be allowed to "perform its duties fearlessly". However, it would seem that this is a conditional statement.

As per a Hindustan Times report, two Arambagh TV journalists were recently arrested by the police, allegedly for extortion. The police had arrested Shafikul Islam who heads the channel, and Suraj Ali Khan who was a reporter there, early on Sunday morning.

As per the HT report, the police had barged into his home, forcing entry through the roof door, before arresting him. He had been with his family at the time.

The reporters in question have conducted several exposés in recent times, revealing that the police stations were allegedly giving money to clubs in April. Since then, the ruling party has apparently been angry with the channel and its reporters. In another report they had said spoken about extortion by the police.

More recently, they had also covered the alleged misappropriation of relief funds that were intended for the families of those affected by Cyclone Amphan.

Shafikul Islam has received bail from the High Court for two cases. However, this case being more recent, he had been unable to visit the court.

The opposition BJP has been vociferous in its protests against the arrest and 'crackdown' on the channel and its reporters, even staging a protest recently. West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar too has spoken out about the situation recently, stating that "if journalists are silenced, so is democracy".

"Safiqul Islam arrest (Arambagh TV) for expose of govt in distributing public money to non-existent clubs raises fundamental issue of freedom of media," he had written.

The state government however seems to have put the topic completely behind them. Some on the internet however took it upon themselves, on Thursday, to call out Rajya Sabha MP Derek O'Brien after the latter tweeted about how smaller, independent media channels were stepping up to "speak truth to power".

Jadavpur MLA and CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty had alleged in a June 30 tweet that Arambagh TV had been penalised for speaking out against the "tyranny" of the ruling party. "Within three days of showing visuals of the police taking bribes, false charges were filed," Chakraborty claimed.

"Shafiqul, his wife and children were arrested in the early hours of the morning. They have been kept in custody for seven days," he said, wording if this was CM Mamata's version of democracy.

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