A journalist accused of publishing a “fictitious” RTI reply has alleged abuse by police during questioning over the controversial report claiming that the BJP-led government has adopted a policy of not recruiting Muslims in the Ayush ministry.
The journalist Pushp Sharma was picked up on Tuesday evening and questioned at the Kotla Mubarakpur police station in Delhi over the report published in the Milli Gazette, India’s oldest Muslim community journal.
Police said he was not arrested but held for questioning.
In a lengthy statement on his questioning, published online by the journal, Sharma said he explained his side of the story to the station house officer.
“After listening this for a few minutes, I heard just abuses, and shouts and allegations, like: who is behind you and what is your motive?” Sharma alleged.
Sharma said that his decision to publish any report is “always journalistic” and accused the “system” – apparently an euphemism for the government – of “character assassination” and arm-twisting”.
The editor of the Milli Gazette, Zafarul-Islam Khan, said the questioning of the journalist “is plain harassment of media and muzzling of free speech”.
The report based on an RTI reply from the Ayush ministry had suggested the government has adopted a policy of not hiring any Muslim candidates as yoga trainers.
The report claimed the government in its reply said though 711 Muslim candidates had applied for short-term assignment of trainers and teachers for the World Yoga Day in 2015, “no Muslim candidate was invited, selected or sent abroad as per government policy.”
The ministry termed the report as fabricated. In its clarification, the ministry said that in September, it replied to an RTI query from Sharma, which was forwarded to three agencies – the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga, Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy and International Cooperation wing of the ministry.
“This is a simple forwarding letter under section 6(3) of RTI Act and therefore does not contain any reply to the queries. The same forwarding letter of the ministry has been used by a section of the media in this matter, but with a non-existent, fictitious ‘Annexure-I’, (which has never been issued by the ministry).”
Police registered a case following a complaint by the ministry, formed to promote ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homeopathy.