A court sent the lead anchor of India’s fiercely nationalist and popular Republic television network to jail for 14 days for allegedly abetting a suicide in a case the channel blamed on local politicians angered by its news coverage.
Police picked up Arnab Goswami, an aggressive journalist known for championing right-wing causes in his prime time debates, from his Mumbai home early on Wednesday, touching off furious debate over whether the press was being muzzled.
Top leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sprang to Goswami’s defence and said it was no way to treat the press, blaming opposition politicians who run the government in Maharashtra.
But the BJP has faced criticism that it has sought to intimidate journalists and activists in states that it governs. Critics said its defence of free speech was selective and that Goswami was a conservative ally of the ruling party.
“Arnab was to the BJP what Fox was to Trump in the U.S.,” Girish Kuber, the editor of the Loksatta newspaper said, referring to U.S.-based Fox News network, whose opinion hosts are usually supportive of President Donald Trump.
“No party in India can claim to speak for true freedom of expression and speech,” Kuber said.
Police said the case against Goswami related to the 2018 suicide of an interior decorator, who allegedly left a note saying Republic TV had not paid him for design work on its television studio.
A case of abetment to suicide that was registered against Goswami following the suicide was later closed for lack of evidence. But police said they had re-opened the case and late on Wednesday night, a district court ordered him to custody.
Republic TV denied the allegation and said 90% of the amount owed to the designer had been paid two years ago. The arrest of Goswami was an “act of revenge and vengeance for his news coverage which questioned those in power in the state of Maharashtra,” it said.
Police did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.
Anil Deshmukh, the state’s Home Minister, said on Wednesday: “No one is above the law and Maharashtra police will take necessary action as per the law”.