Chennai-based senior journalist V Anbazhagan was arrested by the city police at 5 am on Sunday morning after he displayed a book on the government's alleged corrupt activities at a book fair on Saturday. In his book, Anbazhagan had put together RTI replies he had received to highlight alleged misappropriation of funds by members of the ruling AIADMK government.
The Chennai book fair, where the publication was displayed, is being organised by the Book Sellers and Publishers Association (BAPASI) at the YMCA ground in Nandanam. It is a 13 day-long event and hosts around 750 stalls.
According to a statement by the Chennai Press Club secretary, BAPASI officials went to Anbazhagan's stall at the book fair on Saturday and stated that he could not continue his display there because his publication was against the government. Anbazhagan agreed to remove his stall if the officials gave him a letter stating the exact reason offered to him. And after he received it in writing, he left the venue, says the Press Club.
However, following this, BAPASI officials have filed a complaint against Anbazhagan for allegedly attacking them when asked to leave with the Saidapet police. Anbazhagan was then picked by the police, taken to the Saidapet Magistrate Court and remanded.
"BAPASI is under pressure from the government to complain against him," alleges Bharati Tamilan, Secretary of the Press Club. "It is a direct attack on our freedom of speech if we cannot display books about the government in a book fair. He has paid for the stall and BAPASI cannot censor what content is displayed," he adds.
BAPASI denies the allegations and says that the complaint was filed as an act of self-protection by its Secretary SK Murugan after he was attacked.
"When we allow for a stall to be set up, we give the participants 21 rules to be followed. It is made very clear that a book against the government or banned by the government cannot be displayed. We have the right to censor what content is put up in the stalls," says RS Shanmugam, President of BAPASI. "Anbazhagan when told to vacate his stall for violating the rules refused to go and assaulted our Secretary," he maintains.
However, when TNM accessed the list of rules for stall owners, there is not mention of 'anti-government' books. BAPASI, as per the rules, only restricts books banned by the government.
The Press Club Secretary further alleges that it is an act of vendetta by the AIADMK. He points out that Anabazhagan has been on the radar of the government for unearthing information of their corruption and that 26 cases have been filed against him in the past.
"They had even slapped the Goondas Act on him and he had been in jail for over 100 days," he says. "And every single one of these is a false case," Bharathi alleges.
The police have, however, taken serious cognisance of the alleged crime and booked Anbazhagan under non-bailable sections. He has been booked under sections 341 (Wrongful restraint), 294(b) (sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place) and 506 (2)(Punishment for criminal intimidation of the Indian Penal Code).