Chennai: A senior Tamil Nadu journalist, a bitter critic of the ruling AIADMK government, was arrested Sunday morning for allegedly issuing death threats to organisers of the 43rd Chennai Book Fair where he had set up a stall.
The arrest of V. Anbalagan, who runs the vernacular publishing house Makkal Seithi Maiyam, is, however, being seen as the result of him consistently exposing alleged corruption in the ruling AIADMK government.
Anbalagan has been remanded to judicial custody until 24 January; his bail application is listed for today.
Anbalagan, an office-bearer of the Chennai Press Club, had set up a stall at the book fair that commenced on 9 January. The stall displayed a series of books exposing corruption in the government that the journalist had written based on information he received through the RTI Act.
Organisers of the event, the Booksellers And Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI), allegedly forced him to vacate his stall, which he did Saturday after taking the reason in writing.
The letter from the BAPASI president R.S. Shanmugam states that selling controversial books against the government is in violation of event rules.
Shanmugam told ThePrint that Anbalagan’s arrest had nothing to do with the organisation. “It has nothing to do with us. The individual who was threatened has given the complaint,” he said.
The complainant in the case, however, is the BAPASI secretary S.K. Murugan.
“Initially, we did not approve his publication to be showcased in the fair. Since he is a media person and runs a publication, we finally agreed to give him space for a stall,” Murugan told ThePrint.
“He still came to the office and shouted at us in unparliamentary language. This ruckus made us go back on our initial decision and he was asked to vacate his stall. Police had to intervene as he did not concur with our decision. Police advised us to file a complaint and we did.”
The Saidapet police, which is handling the case, refused to comment on the arrest.
The controversial books
Anbalagan has written a series of books such as Oozhal Saamrajyam (Corrupt Empire),
Amma unavagam Rs.300 kodi izhappu (Rs 300 cr loss in Amma canteen scheme), among others, on alleged corruption in the AIADMK government.
Anbalagan’s publication had also reported the inaugural function of the book fair, attended by Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy, was a dud as the CM “spoke to empty chairs”.
This, however, isn’t his first run-in with the AIADMK government. In 2017, he was arrested under the Goondas Act after he wrote a letter to the CBI alleging corruption by the Municipal Administration Minister S.P. Velumani and his aides.
His latest arrest has drawn criticism.
The Chennai Press Club has issued a statement condemning the arrest and “filing of false cases under non-bailable sections” against Anbalagan. “This is a challenge to the freedom of expression and press freedom”, it said, while demanding the immediate release of the journalist.
DMK president M.K. Stalin also tweeted condemning the arrest. “Because of the book exposing ADMK government’s corruption was put up, revoking the license of the stall and arresting the journalist/publisher is condemnable,” he said, demanding the immediate release of Anbalagan along with restoring the license of his stall in the book fair.
Chennai Book Fair-ல், அதிமுக அரசின் ஊழல்களை அம்பலப்படுத்தும் புத்தகம் இருந்ததால் ‘மக்கள் செய்தி மையம்’ அரங்கின் அனுமதியை ரத்து செய்து, பத்திரிகையாளர் அன்பழகனையும் கைது செய்திருப்பது கண்டனத்திற்குரியது.
அன்பழகன் உடனே விடுவிக்கப்பட்டு, உரிம அனுமதியும் திருப்பித் தரப்பட வேண்டும்!
— M.K.Stalin (@mkstalin) January 12, 2020
MDMK leader Vaiko in a press release also “strongly condemned such fascist repression against freedom of expression”. Even the Samajwadi Party’s state wing issued a statement condemning the arrest.