Senior journalist Vinod Verma held for 'extortion'

Senior journalist Vinod Verma held for 'extortion'

Former BBC journalist Vinod Verma was arrested in the early hours of Friday from his residence in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, in connection with an extortion case.

The police claimed that Verma, currently a consultant to Chhattisgarh Congress president Bhupesh Baghel, was in possession of a sex tape of senior Chhattisgarh minister Rajesh Munat and was blackmailing him.

As many as 500 copies of the CD, around Rs 2 lakh cash, pen drive, laptop and a diary were recovered from the journalist's residence during raids, the police said.

A case was registered in Raipur against the senior journalist on October 26 on the basis of a complaint lodged by Chhattisgarh BJP leader Prakash Bajaj.

"A man named Prakash Bajaj had lodged a complaint at Pandri police station in Raipur that he was being harassed over phone by an unidentified caller, who told him that he had a CD of his master," a news agency quoted Raipur Superintendent of Police, Sanjeev Shukla, as saying.

Verma dubbed his arrest "a political witch-hunt."

"It's because I have the sex tapes of Chhattisgarh minister Rajesh Munat," he told a multimedia news agency after his arrest.

A member of the Editors' Guild of India and a freelance journalist, Verma was part of a fact-finding committee last year to verify and assess the arrests of journalists in Chhattisgarh as well as threats and challenges faced by journalists in the state.

The committee noted in its report that journalists were "working under tremendous pressure" in Chhattisgarh.

While there was a "sense of fear" among journalists in the conflict-affected region of Bastar, those working in Raipur complained of their phones being tapped, the report added.

The Congress condemned police action against Verma and demanded his immediate release. It also sought a probe against Munat for sexual misconduct.

"Verma was probing sexual misconduct by Rajesh Munat...Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come to power, the press has been under attack. The ministers have called the press presstitutes. The prime minister has called the press 'Baajaroo'," senior Congress spokesperson and former Union minister Ajay Maken told reporters.

Verma was caught in connection with the case after a Delhi-based video operator told the Chhattisgarh Crime Branch team that the journalist had asked him to make as many as 1000 copies of the CD.

He has been charged with various section of the Indian Penal Code, including extortion, criminal intimidation and wrongful confinement.

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