Freedom at stake
The Governor’s office invokes Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code against Nakkheeran magazine editor R.R. Gopal, but timely judicial intervention saves the day for press freedom.
IT is not every day that a magistrate, who is in the lowest rung of the judicial hierarchy, stands up to state power and protects media freedom. In early October, a local magistrate created shock waves in Tamil Nadu by refusing to remand a journalist arrested at the behest of the office of the Tamil Nadu Governor because his magazine carried news items which were not to the Governor’s liking.
No whim of Governor Banwarilal Purohit has ever been turned down by anyone in a position of power in the State—he has been holding review meetings in many districts (described by the benign term “familiarisation”), routinely conducting meetings with senior bureaucrats, and inspecting projects. Not once has any Minister in the government asked questions as to why the Governor is doing a job that they are supposed to be doing; in fact, Ministers, when questioned, have maintained that it was good that multiple inspections of projects were happening in the State.
On October 9, when R.R. Gopal, editor and publisher of Nakkheeran, a Tamil magazine, left his home at Jani Jahanikhan Road, Royapettah, Chennai, with a siddha doctor to go to Pune to meet an ailing friend, he did not realise that he would be a media sensation in the next one hour. “The police were there near my house but did not stop the vehicle in which I was travelling because it was not my usual car,” he said, recounting the drama that filled his day.
Nakkheeran Gopal, as he is popularly known, normally travels around in a white Ambassador, and the police team near his house missed arresting him there because they were waiting for the Ambassador to emerge from his house. Unaware of this, Gopal reached the airport and checked in for the 8:40 a.m. Indigo flight to Pune along with the doctor. He then chose to use the washroom near the Commercially Important Persons lounge “which is not used much”. As he was walking towards the washroom, Gopal said he noticed an Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) staffer hanging around. He exchanged pleasantries with the staffer. “Even at that time, I was wondering why an I.B. guy was
As soon as he came out of the washroom, an Assistant Commissioner of Police (A.C.), Vijayakumar, requested him to wait as a Deputy Commissioner (D.c.)-level officer wanted to “make an enquiry” with him. “I said that the flight was at 8:40 a.m., and that it was already past 8 a.m., and the A.C. said, no problem, we will take care of it. In the next few minutes, the Adyar D.C., G. Shashank Sai, along with about 20 policemen in civilian clothes closed in on me,” he said. The D.C. showed no warrant; he told Gopal that the enquiry would take a bit of time and told one of his juniors to take Gopal’s phone. In the next few minutes, Go- out there that early,” he
R.R. Gopal after he was arrested on October 9.