2 employees of leading Odia TV channel held in rape case, Oppn alleges attack on press freedom
The Crime Investigation Department (CID) of the Odisha Police on Monday arrested four persons including two employees of leading Odia TV channel OTV, which is owned by Jagi Panda --- the wife of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) vice-president Baijayant Panda --- in connection with the alleged gang rape of a 13-year-old girl earlier this year.
The action prompted Opposition leaders to say the police in the Biju Janata Dal (BJD)-ruled state were targeting and harassing employees of OTV, which is critical of the state administration.
CID officials said two security guards and two employees of OTV were those arrested, adding that the minor girl’s mother lodged a complaint against them in August.
On August 30, the mother lodged the complaint in Bhubaneswar, alleging that her minor daughter was repeatedly gang-raped in the months of March and April. The mother worked with OTV as a receptionist for a few months. She also accused a police officer and his associates of raping the minor at gunpoint.
The arrests came weeks after the Orissa high court asked the Odisha Police why no action was being taken in the case. Earlier, the DGP, in an affidavit before the HC, had mentioned that there were inconsistencies in the statements of the girl and others.
Soon after the arrests, OTV said the organisation and its employees have always cooperated with the police. “There is no prima facie evidence against the arrested persons and so there was no reason for their arrest. On the other hand, police officials who have been accused in the case are yet to be arrested creating doubts about the fairness of the investigation,” the channel said.
Senior Congress leader Suresh Routray said the arrests smacked of injustice and publicity stunt. “Why only OTV staff were arrested, and not the police personnel accused in the case? This case needs a proper investigation,” he said.
Senior lawyer and BJP leader Pitambar Acharya said the arrest of OTV employees was more of a selective prosecution. “When one’s destruction is near, their brain stops working – this is what is happening with the Odisha government. Intentionally attacking the press freedom, which we term as malicious proceeding, is not a sign of a healthy democracy,” said Acharya.
The police’s move come against the backdrop of similar actions --- arrests and interrogations --- of several OTV employees, including its journalists, in a number of cases over the past year. The BJD says all actions were taken according to law.