Four journalists were arrested by Gautam Budh Nagar police Saturday for allegedly publishing false news to blackmail police officers. According to police, the accused Sushil Pandit, Chandan Rai, Nitish Pandey and Udit Goyal allegedly posted unverified content about police officers posted in Gautam Budh Nagar on multiple social media platforms for alleged vested interests. Police said the fifth accused, Raman Thakur, is absconding, and added that they have declared a reward of Rs 25,000 for his arrest.
According to police, Pandit, Goyal and Thakur had earlier been arrested in January along with the SHO of Sector 20 police station for alleged extortion and blackmail, and were out on bail. The four men have been arrested and none of them is an accredited journalist. They were running a gang to blackmail high-ranking officers, particularly police officers, through web portals and social media. They would publish fake content about them on social media and blackmail them, said Vaibhav Krishna, SSP, Gautam Budh Nagar.
According to police, the accused operated out of Noida, Ghaziabad and Lucknow. The portals where they published the alleged content included sansaniindia.com, policemedianews.com and policenewsup.com.
According to police, Pandit, the mastermind of the alleged gang, published an online paper called Paini Khabar on sansaniindia.com, registered under the name Team 50 Network . On Wednesday, the portal ran a piece alleging that the Gautam Budh Nagar SSP was favouring officers of a particular caste in regard to postings, said police.
In another piece published on August 4 on sansaniindia.com, the group alleged that the Noida administration was complicit in a Rs 60-crore mining scam, police said. The accused would also run photos of the officials without prior permission in the name of free speech, a police officer said.
In one piece it was suggested that I favoured an SHO because I shared a good equation with a political leader. They also published wrong news about the present SSP Lucknow, the commandant 49 PAC, CO Sahibabad and many others. It is all baseless, said SSP Krishna. Police said they will submit 10 such alleged pieces published in the last six months as evidence.
According to police, policemedianews.com, allegedly being run by accused Pandey, has almost 14,000 followers on Twitter, including senior policemen and official handles of various police districts in the state.
While being taken into custody, Rai claimed: We can present facts to back our articles. This seems like an attempt to silence the media. If they ask for any other evidence to support our claims, we will provide that as well. We will fight against it."
The district magistrate, Gautam Budh Nagar, has announced that the Goonda Act will be imposed against the accused. An FIR against the accused has been filed at Beta 2 police station under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986.