A well-known editor of a Tamil weekly was arrested Tuesday following a complaint from the Raj Bhavan over a series of articles that allegedly had damaging references to Governor Banwarilal Purohit, official sources said.
Senior journalist R Gopal, who heads the magazine Nakkheeran and had written articles on a sex scandal involving a woman college teacher, was picked up by a police team from the airport here when he was on way to Pune, they said.
Gopal was arrested under Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), relating to “assaulting President, Governor etc with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power”, the sources said.
They said the action was taken on a complaint from the Raj Bhavan over the articles in the magazine since April last related to an assistant professor of a private college in Virudhunagar district allegedly asking girl students to extend sexual favours to officials in return for marks and money.
The arrest of Gopal, who shot to limelight when he negotiated with forest brigand Veerappan for the release of Kannada thespian Rajkumar in 2000, was condemned by principal opposition DMK and other parties which alleged that an “undeclared emergency” has been imposed in the state.
Senior BJP leader and Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan claimed there was a “conspiracy” to “implicate” the Governor in the sex scandal case as several politicians’ feared their career could be doomed if the entire truth came out.
AMMK leader TTV Dhinakaran defended the police action, saying there was no place for “defamatory” writings.
Assistant professor Nirmala Devi of the college in Aruppukottai, affiliated to the Madurai Kamaraj University, was arrested in connection with the case.
The scandal came to light in April this year after an audio tape of purported conversation between Nirmala Devi and some students surfaced.
Reacting to the professor claiming in her audio that she knew the Governor and had access to him, Purohit had rejected her claim and said he did not know her.
The Governor had ordered an inquiry by a retired IAS officer to look into the scandal in his capacity as the chancellor of universities.
Condemning the arrest of Gopal, DMK President M K Stalin hit out at the Governor and AIADMK government for “imposing an undeclared Emergency and threatening media freedom.”
The arrest had been made for writing articles on an arrested professor. “What is happening in Tamil Nadu?” he asked expressing shock over the police action.
“Is Tamil Nadu a democratic state? The corrupt AIADMK government and the Governor have imposed an undeclared emergency and threatening media freedom,” he alleged.
The DMK chief, who called on Gopal at a hospital where he was taken after arrest, sought withdrawal of the case and his release immediately.
Leaders of PMK, CPIM, CPI, Makkal Neethi Maiam leader actor Kamal Haasan, MDMK chief Vaiko among others slammed the arrest of Gopal.
Talking to reporters in Chennai, Radhakrishnan said: “…there are fears that if the matter came to the light, the political life of many politicians will become a question mark. So there there is a big conspiracy.”
“There is a big conspiracy to implicate the Governor and make allegations against him,” he said.
The Minister recalled that a one-man inquiry commission headed by retired IAS officer R Santhanam appointed by Purohit was yet to complete its probe and file a report.
Dhinakaran said he saw nothing wrong in the arrest.
“I don’t feel this is wrong. If someone spreads false charges (against Governor), police has the authority to act against them,” he told reporters in Tiruchirappalli.
Media was the fourth pillar of democracy, he said, indicating it should use its freedom of expression carefully.
The Madras Reporters Guild and Madras Union of Journalists and Chennai Press Club condemned the arrest as “reprehensible, undemocratic and against the canons of free speech and expression.”
“It is open to the police or government to file a case against any journalist or media organisation. But to arrest a journalist as a first step of the investigation is uncalled for and totally unnecessary,” the guild said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Vaiko, denied permission to meet Gopal at a police station where the journalist was taken, staged an impromptu dharna against the police. He was later detained and moved to a nearby marriage hall, police said.