In an unprecedented and controversial move, police arrested the founder of SimpliCity, a Coimbatore based online portal, for reporting about shortage of food for Postgraduates in the Coimbatore Medical College and Hospital and irregularities in the Public Distribution system. Andrew Sam Raja Pandian was arrested based on a complaint filed by M. Sundararajan an Assistant Commissioner (Personal) with the city corporation.
He was arrested for offences under Sections 188 (Disobedience to order duly promulgated by a civil servant), 505 (i) (Statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act. This is the first time that the act has been invoked against a journalist since the coronavirus pandemic affected Tamil Nadu.
In what seems to be a clear case of nuzzling the media, the complainant claimed that two reports on the websitecould 'turn doctors and public distribution system (PDS) workers against the government and derail efforts to fight the coronavirus'.
The first story 'No timely and adequate food, allege UG and PG Student Doctors at CMCH Hostel' is about how doctors pursuing their undergraduation and postgraduation at the CMCH hostel were forced to protests for food at a time when they are battling coronavirus from the frontlines.
The second story titled 'Looting at ration shops during lockdown, govt's grant of Rs.1000 swindled, lament public', alleges that ration shop workers are looting provisions meant for the poor. The report quotes affected persons and also mentions that the Coimbatore Collector has ordered a probe.
And as far as the report on the food shortage is concerned, there is evidence of protest by doctors in CMCH and the matter has been reported widely across the state. Following the protests, action was taken against the Dean of the college and even the Medical Superintendent was issued a show cause notice.
However, the complainant claims that the reports could lead to healthcare professionals stopping work and affecting COVID-19 management. The complainant has also alleged that the distribution of rations to the public would be affected if PDS employees protested over the article.
Speaking to TNM, Jabez John, a journalist who knows the founder says, "SimpliCity have been reporting news that all other portals have been publishing. However, we have been targeted because we are a small organisation and can be squashed. Our reporters were harassed for 10 hours in the Variety Hall police station and in RS Puram Station before the founder was arrested."
Though the complaint mentions only two stories, many journalists pointed out that what really lead to the arrest is a story quoting a DMK leader who was critical of TN Minister SP Velumani.
#Coimbatore see founder of a news portal @simplicitycbe for publishing a story which blamed the district administration for not providing proper food to PG doctors on #COVID19 duty pic.twitter.com/uAdNFVh0xHâ€” Shabbir Ahmed (@Ahmedshabbir20) April 23, 2020