THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 5 NOVEMBER, 2020
On November 4, Maharashtra police arrested the Editor-in-Chief of Republic TV, Arnab Goswami for alleged abetment to suicide in a two-year old case, recently reopened for investigation. He has been remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.
Goswami, along with two others, Feroz Shaikh of IcastX/Skimedia and Nitesh Sarda of Smartworks were reportedly named in a suicide letter written by interior designer Anvay Naik for alleged non-payment of dues. Along with Goswami, Shaikh and Sarda were also reportedly arrested on Wednesday.
Videos circulating online and telecast by Republic TV news channel show a scuffle between Goswami and a police team at the journalist’s home. In the video, Goswami states that the police had “physically assaulted” him. As per telecasted footage, Goswami was seen being pushed into a police van.
An over 10 minute video released on the social media,however, shows the police trying to persuade Goswami to go peacefully with them. He kept refusing saying he needed to consult his family. The video went viral with Twitterati commenting that they had never seen such polite treatment from the police during arrests.
According to reports, Goswami alleged in court that he sustained injuries during the arrest. The claims were dismissed by the Alibaug court after a medical examination.
The Indian Express reported that Mumbai Police filed a fresh FIR against Goswami, his wife and son for allegedly assaulting a woman police official.
The suicide case in which Goswami has been arrested dates back to 2018 when Anvay Naik and his mother Kumud Naik were found dead at their home in Alibaug. The police then stated that Naik had died by suicide while the post-mortem report of his mother revealed death by strangulation, suggesting it was not suicide in her case.
The suicide note found by the police reportedly stated that the three accused owed Naik’s company—Concorde Designs Pvt. Ltd—pending payments to the tune of Rs. 5.4 crore. Goswami reportedly owed Rs. 83 lakhs, Shaikh owed Rs 4 crore while Sarda owed Rs. 55 lakhs. Goswami had allegedly denied the charge, stating that he had made the payment.
According to reports, the police investigation claimed that Naik, in heavy debt, had been struggling to make his repayments. The case was closed in April 2019 with the Raigad police, in charge of the investigation, stating they had not found evidence against the three accused.
In May this year, the case was reopened with Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh announcing that the state CID would be re-investigating the case as a fresh complaint had been received by Adnya Naik, Anvay Naik’s daughter. The Indian Express reported that officers outside Arnab’s residence said that the same court in which the Raigad police had filed their closure report had given them permission to reopen the case. Meanwhile, CID officials reportedly said they have no case against Goswami.
In a press conference held on November 4, Naik’s family—his wife and daughter—stated they were “happy with the arrest”, alleging that there had been immense pressure on them to close the case in the past.
“We do not want to make the issue political. I have lost two family members due to this issue. We want people to understand how powerful people like Arnab Goswami get away with such things. The arrest should have been made much earlier,” Adnya stated.
Naik’s wife said, “Arnab Goswami kept saying arrests should be made in Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case where there was no suicide note. My husband left behind a suicide note naming Arnab and two others but no arrests were made. How is this fair?”
Goswami’s coverage of the Sushant Singh Rajput case was heavily criticised, with a PIL moved in Delhi High Court alleging he had reported “distorted and misleading facts” and led a “witch hunt” against actor Rhea Chakraborty, accused in the case, infringing her right to fair trial. The Bombay High Court had also rebuked the channel for leading an #ArrestRhea campaign on Twitter while the matter was sub judice.
According to reports, Adnya also said that the family had been threatened. "Baba (father) also e-mailed them, but he did not receive a reply. My father was continuously threatened. Bikers followed, people used to come and sit at home. Our phones were tapped. They had threatened to ruin my career too,” she is reported to have said.
In a press release, Republic TV stated that Goswami’s arrest in “mocked-up suicide case” had been made as part of a “larger vindictive exercise against an independent journalist.” The channel claimed that the parent company ARG Outlier Media Pvt. Ltd. had “fulfilled all financial obligations” and paid 90% of the amount due to Naik’s company over two years ago. They claimed the entire balance due was paid to the company’s bank account but was returned due to the account being “inoperative”.
“The very fact that the open physical assault on Arnab, his family and on team Republic was caught on tape and beamed across the world this morning in a closed case is proof of the desperation with which the Mumbai Police and Maharashtra Government is operating,” Republic TV’s statement read.
Goswami’s arrest comes at a time when the television journalist has been at loggerheads with the Mumbai Police and the Maharashtra state administration, most recently over the TRP scam, in which Mumbai Police charged Republic TV, along with two others, for allegedly making payments to boost the channel’s TRPs.
Goswami has faced a number of cases this year. An FIR was registered against him for a report about a “revolt” within the Mumbai police force against Commissioner Param Bir Singh. FIRs were also registered against him for allegedly making defamatory statements against Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and for communalising incidents such as the Palghar lynchings.
Goswami’s arrest in the abetment to suicide case has polarised social media. On one hand, his arrest has reportedly been met with protests in various parts of the country. Union Ministers and BJP leaders have condemned the act as “misuse of state power” and criticised Congress—which is part of the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Agadhi coalition government in Maharashtra.
Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted: "Congress and its allies have shamed democracy once again. Blatant misuse of state power against Republic TV and Arnab Goswami is an attack on individual freedom and the 4th pillar of democracy. It reminds us of the Emergency. This attack on free press must be and WILL BE OPPOSED.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar posted: "We condemn the attack on press freedom in Maharashtra. This is not the way to treat the Press. This reminds us of the emergency days when the press was treated like this."
Other leaders who came out in support of Goswami included BJP President JP Nadda, Union Ministers Smriti Irani and Piyush Goyal among others.
Meanwhile, the Congress has slammed the BJP for “selective outrage” on the freedom of the press and for remaining silent on sedition charges against other journalists. Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate stated, “Why are they silent when Prashant Kanojia is jailed for a number of months just because he exposed a scam where children were being served salt and chapati in Mirzapur?"
“And when a reporter who exposed the PPE kit scam in Uttar Pradesh is jailed and faces serious sedition charges instead of action been taken against those responsible for the scam,” Shrinate told reporters, adding, “So this selective outrage is extremely unwarranted, is shameful and they (the BJP) should be ashamed of saying anything.”