The Karnataka police on Saturday briefly let off three Kashmiri students of the KLE Institute of Technology in Hubballi, who were booked for sedition, reportedly over lack of evidence. The three students were arrested on Saturday after a video of them saying “Pakistan,” and later “Zindabad,” as a song used by the Pakistan armed forces played in the background, went viral.
After the three students were briefly let off, members of the Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shri Rama Sene gathered outside the Gokul Road Police Station and began demanding why the three students were let off. They burnt tyres and called the three students “anti-nationals.”
However, it was not only the right-wing groups, who questioned the brief release of three students, but also the local media, as news anchors began to call the students “traitors” and accused the police of “wrongdoing.”
The condemnation of the three students by several local channels began after the Hubballi Police Commissioner, Dileep gave a statement.
“The accused were released under Section 169 of the CrPC. The case was registered in the Gokul Road Police Station when it is under the Hubballi Rural Police limits and so we had to let them off here. This is a sedition case and we have to follow Supreme Court guidelines and maintain certain discretion,” Commissioner Dileep said.
Following this statement, the local media, which believed that the accused had been granted bail, began calling the students “traitors” and accused the police of negligence in their news bulletins.
“The food, water and air they breath is of this land but traitors shouted in support of Pakistan. For this mud-eating act, they were imprisoned but the police have suddenly let these worms go and this has caused protests to erupt in Hubballi,” a TV9 anchor said.
The report went on to support the members of the Bajrang Dal, who protested outside the police station and said that this was a "mistake" by the police.
“The reason why such protests have erupted in Hubbali is due to the one mistake the police made. Instead of punishing those who resorted to such mud-eating acts despite staying in this country, the police let off the traitors on bail,” the news presenter went on to say, as dramatic visuals of the right-wing groups shouting, “Down, down traitors,” played on screen.
Another TV channel, Suvarna News, had a VHP leader speak during the bulletin, and most of the questions asked by the anchor were leading questions, loaded with heavy editorialisation. “What do you think of the video in which the students are making anti-national statements? Do you think they have even an ounce of regret in them?”
The anchor also raised questions about whether the BJP, which is the ruling party in the state, is going to take measures to ensure that the “traitors are punished.”
“What has angered these protesters even more is that the BJP, which claims to be a nationalist party, did not do anything to take action against the traitors. Do you think that traitors are getting protection here?” the news presenter said.
This is not the first time regional media has made sweeping statements about a case where the police probe has not been completed yet. In January, when police found a bag containing components used to make an IED outside the Mangaluru International Airport, local television channels jumped the gun by claiming that “jihadi forces” were trying to spread “communal hatred” in Mangaluru.