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25 Jul 2017

Nepali channel to fight legal battle against Mamata govt’s gag order

Gorkhaland supporters participate in a rally on Sevok Road close to Siliguri town.
Gorkhaland supporters participate in a rally on Sevok Road close to Siliguri town.(Bikram Sashanker / HT Photo)
Pramod Giri, HT, 25 July 2017: Two days after its office in Siliguri was sealed, ABN News Network, the only Nepali language satellite channel in India, alleged that Bengal’s police and administration violated freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. Freedom of the press was violated too, said the channel which has its headquarters in Delhi.

The channel’s office on Sevok Road was sealed by the police on Saturday night as part of the crackdown on establishments that have been charged with promoting unrest linked to the movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland.

Prem Chettri, legal advisor to the channel, and Tulsi Raman, head of the company’s human resource division, condemned the crackdown and said on Monday that the channel would challenge the order in court.

Police confronting Gorkhaland supporters on Sevok Road on Saturday. (Bikram Sashanker/HT Photo)
Raman said, “ABN News Network went on air in October 2016. It is a satellite television channel but the administration treated it like a local cable channel. The channel will continue to telecast from Delhi after some technical problems are sorted out.”

“The police entered our office, conducted search and sealed it. They did not serve us any notice earlier. Nor did they carry out any investigation,” alleged Chettri.

“The police should have given us an opportunity to explain our operations. The notice issued under Section 41 (a) CrPC was handed to the management only after the office was sealed. The Police did not give a copy of the seizure list,” alleged Chettri.

After the raid, government officials in Siliguri had said that the channel violated a public order and promoted enmity between ethnic groups. However, both Chettri and Raman refuted the charge.

Niraj Kumar Singh, police commissioner of Siliguri, said, “We received complaints that the channel violated prohibitory orders and had telecast footage that fanned hatred in the Darjeeling hills. Our action was based on the FIR lodged against the channel by the Darjeeling district information and culture department.”

The channel’s office will remain sealed till the police completes the investigation, said Singh.

An order served to the company by Rachna Bhagat, Jalpaiguri district magistrate, said the channel’s news, which were being shared on social media, were highly objectionable. These were spreading hatred and animosity among different communities, said the order.

The order also said that the situation prevailing in and around Darjeeling district was very sensitive.

The DM ordered suspension of transmission and broadcast of news programmes relating to Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri districts till August 7.

The government banned internet services and transmission by local cable channels in the Darjeeling hills more than a month ago.

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