Update: 2 vendors arrested for selling newspaper with Hebdo cartoon

JJ Marg Police have arrested two persons for selling copies of Urdu daily Avadhnama, which printed a controversial cartoon of Prophet Mohammed from French magazine Charlie Hebdo

In an act that has caused much surprise and alarm, the JJ Marg police have arrested newspaper vendors Tariq Ahmed Sheikh and Salman Kalam Sheikh for selling the January 17 issue of the Urdu daily Avadhnama, which carried a photo of the cover of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo with the controversial cartoon of Prophet Mohammed.

Also read: Editor of Urdu daily held for reprinting Charlie Hebdo's controversial cartoon of Prophet Mohammed

The first edition of Charlie Hebdo published after the attack on January 7, which killed 12 people, had a print run of seven million, up from the usual 30,000. File pic/Getty Images
The first edition of Charlie Hebdo published after the attack on January 7, which killed 12 people, had a print run of seven million, up from the usual 30,000. File pic/Getty Images

The two arrested persons will be produced in Sewri Court on February 5, according to reports.

Legal experts and newspaper vendors across the city said they were unhappy with the action taken by the police and wondered how a vendor could be held responsible for the content in a newspaper. The complainant has, however, stated that the vendor knew and understood Urdu and knew about the article and, thus, should have refrained from selling the newspaper.

The vendors have argued that several newspapers and magazines are sold at stalls and they can’t be expected to know what’s printed in each of them. Representation pic
The vendors have argued that several newspapers and magazines are sold at stalls and they can’t be expected to know what’s printed in each of them. Representation pic

Several FIRs had also been filed against the newspaper’s editor, Shireen Dalvi, who said yesterday that she was being hounded (see box). The Mumbai edition of Avadhnama was shuttered following the controversy.

‘Sold it knowingly’
When mid-day spoke to officials from JJ Marg police station, they said that the case had been filed because the vendor sold copies of the newspaper knowingly. Off the record, however, some police officials admitted that it had been registered due to pressure from members of the community.

Senior Police Inspector Anil Madvi of JJ Marg police station said, “A case has been registered against the vendor based on a complaint by Riyaz Chale (committee member of a masjid in South Mumbai). We have registered the case under Section 295 (Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) of the IPC.

We have not made any arrests and further investigations are on.” A source from the police station, however, said, “There was outrage after the incident and there was a lot of pressure from the community to file a case against the vendor. They alleged that the vendor understands Urdu and knew about the front-page article ‘against Prophet Mohammed’.

So, the vendor should have not sold the newspaper that day, but he did. We initially refused to take the case as no such case can be filed against the vendor, but there was a lot of pressure on us and the FIR was registered to control the situation.”

Additional Commissioner of Police (South region) Krishna Prakash said, “Based on the complaint, an FIR has been registered. The complainant has alleged that despite knowing the language and the fact that the circulation of the said newspaper would hurt religious sentiments, the vendor went ahead and sold the newspaper.”

When he was asked whether the vendor could be held accountable for the news content, Prakash said, “The matter is being investigated and we have not arrested anyone in the case so far.”

Reactions

Mahesh Jethmalani, Advocate
This is a complete over-reaction by the police. The vendor is not at fault in the matter. The cops should know how to handle the situation they cannot charge the vendor in this case.

Julio Ribeiro, Former Police Commissioner
The move seems very far-fetched. Personally, I would not have done this. I would never have taken the case against the vendor. He was just doing his job of selling newspapers; he is not responsible for their content.

Hari Pawar, General Secretary, Vendors Association (Mumbai)
Our work is to only sell newspapers. The newspapers are given to us by distributors or by the organisations and we sell them on stands or door-to-door, but we don’t know what’s printed in them. So many newspapers and magazines are sold at each stall. How can we be held responsible for what is printed in a newspaper?

'Being hounded'
The sessions court yesterday extended the bail of Shireen Dalvi, the editor of Avadhnama, even as she wrote a blog to admit the “mistake” and seek “forgiveness”, while claiming that she was being “hounded and harassed”.

In a blog for a news channel yesterday, Dalvi began with an apology for having printed the cover of Charlie Hebdo. “It was a mistake and I had no intention to hurt the feelings of my community. Like any other Muslim, I deeply respect Prophet Mohammed… That said, since January 17, I am being harassed and hounded even after publishing an apology in my paper Avadhnama and other national papers,” she said.

“Four cases have been slapped against me. I have not been able to go back home since then and my children have stopped going to college. I am an underground citizen of India,” she added. Maintaining that she felt “insecure and unsafe”, Dalvi said that, as a single mother of two children, she was worried about their future.

“Even after apologising, I am being threatened that an apology is not enough,” she said, adding the allegation that she printed the cover deliberately even after being stopped was not true. “The newspaper has shut down. I and many others have lost our jobs. I apologise to all of them for the hardship. But can I now appeal to those who are still upset: please forgive, forget and move ahead,” she added. - Agencies

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