Consider Mathrubhumi News complaint of police harassment, take appropriate steps: Kerala HC to State Police

The Kerala High Court on Wednesday directed the State Police to consider the complaints of alleged police harassment made by a leading Malayalam TV channel — Mathrubhumi News — and take appropriate steps in accordance with the law after giving a proper hearing to the representatives of the media house.

The High Court also recorded the submission of the state that there was no harassment of the reporters and staff of the media house by the police and its officers were only doing their duties in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

“Petitioners (channel and its reporters) have got a grievance that there is continuous police harassment towards them. Petitioners submitted exhibits P6 and P14 (complaints) before the 4th respondent (State Police Chief).

“I am of the considered opinion that there may not be any grievance to the mediapersons regarding the police harassment. The 4th respondent should look into exhibits P6 and P14 and give an opportunity of hearing to an authorised representative of the petitioners and take appropriate action in accordance with law,” Justice P V Kunhikrishnan said.

The court also made it clear that the police was “free to continue with the investigation based on the FIR and take appropriate steps in accordance with law”.

“If any notice is issued by the police authorities in connection with the FIR, the petitioners (media house and its reporters) will cooperate with the police,” Justice Kunhikrishnan said in his order.

The court gave the police one month’s time from the date of receipt of the order to consider the channel’s complaints and take steps in accordance with the law.

The order came on a plea moved by the Malayalam channel alleging that some of its reporters and staff were being harassed by the police for taking photographs and videos of the Elathur train arson case accused when he was being transported by road from Ratnagiri in Maharashtra to Kozhikode in Kerala.

The media house has also alleged that mobile phones of its reporters were seized by the police in connection with an FIR lodged against them for offences under Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 353 (using criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 201(destruction of evidence), 506 (criminal intimidation) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The allegations against the reporters in the FIR was that when the police team along with the Elathur train arson case accused reached Udupi in Karnataka, four persons obstructed the vehicle, took photographs of the suspect and thereby tried to defeat the purpose of his Test Identification Parade, the petition has said.

It has further alleged that the reporters were also accused of following the police team and intimidating them.

When the reporters appeared before the police in connection with the FIR, they were questioned, their statements recorded and then their phones were seized without their consent, the petition has alleged.

It has alleged that, subsequently, police kept sending notices to bring various camera equipment and memory cards in connection with the incident causing considerable harassment to the reporters and the media house.

As a result, the media house sent two complaints to the State Police Chief alleging harassment by the police officers and seeking return of the mobile phones, the plea has said.

As the complaints were not considered by the police, the channel decided to move the Kerala High Court, the petition has said.

A senior IPS officer, P Vijayan, who was the former head of the state’s ATS unit, was suspended in connection with the alleged leak of information regarding transportation of the Elathur train arson case accused from Ratnagiri to Kozhikode.

The Kerala Police’s strategy to secretly bring the suspect — Shahrukh Saifi — to the state by road in a private SUV to avoid media and public attention had gone awry as the vehicle got stranded on the roadside with a flat tyre and only three officers to guard the accused as locals gathered there to get a glimpse of him.

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The flat tyre incident occurred while the team was proceeding through Kannur district of the state and the officers sat inside the SUV for around an hour, trying to arrange a replacement vehicle for their onward journey.

Saifi was caught in Ratnagiri on April 5, three days after the night of April 2 when he had allegedly set fire to passengers after pouring petrol on them when the train reached Korapuzha bridge near Elathur in Kozhikode district. Nine people suffered burn injuries in the incident.

Three persons — a woman, an infant, and a man — died in the incident after they fell down from the train in their attempt to escape from the fire.

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