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Terror law sweep snares editor

Chennai, April 16: Tamil Nadu has become the first state in the south to charge a journalist under the new anti-terror law with the Jayalalithaa government using the decree against Nakkeeran editor R.R. Gopal, a one-time emissary to bandit Veerappan.

The use of the anti-terror law against the editor comes close on the heels of the midnight arrest of the Opposition DMK’s youth wing leader, M.K. Stalin, on the charge that he trespassed into a women’s college.

Stalin, son of DMK leader M. Karunanidhi, had gone to Queen Mary’s College to express solidarity with students protesting against the government’s move to pull down the institution to make way for a new secretariat complex.

The Opposition alleged that Gopal has been singled out for the controversial Prevention of Terrorism Act because of his proximity to the DMK.

The crime branch criminal investigation department had already slapped on Gopal several charges under the Indian Penal Code, including one on “sedition” in a case relating to the disappearance of a police informant on the activities of Veerappan.

The police have also charged Gopal under the Arms Act, saying an unlicensed gun, ammunition and a pamphlet of a banned extremist outfit were allegedly found in a bag carried by the Nakkeeran editor.

The “discovery” of the gun has come in handy for invoking a provision of the anti-terrorism law as a notification issued in December last allows the prosecution of anyone under the controversial law if found with unauthorised arms.

Fuming at the development, Karunanidhi said he would not hesitate to lead an agitation until the Centre withdrew the anti-terror law. The issue is likely to figure prominently at the all-party meeting convened here on April 24.

The crime branch today filed a petition before the additional chief metropolitan magistrate at Egmore here, seeking the transfer of the case against Gopal to the special court trying cases under the anti-terror law.

Gopal is the 42nd person to be charged under the law in the state. Among other high-profile accused under the law are MDMK leader Vaiko and Tamil Nationalist Movement leader P. Nedumaran.

Gopal and his trademark handle-bar moustache had become a familiar fixture in television screens during the height of the Rajkumar kidnap crisis. The previous DMK government had made him the official emissary to negotiate with Veerappan for the release of several kidnap victims, including the Kannada actor.

True to their style under the Jayalalithaa government, police had arrested Gopal under dramatic circumstances near the Nakkeeran office around 8.45 pm on April 11.

The editor’s car was intercepted as it came out of the office and Gopal was told to get into a police vehicle. The police interrogated him for the rest of the night at the crime branch headquarters in Chennai.

Nakkeeran associate editor Kamaraj said the “missing man” case — in which the anti-terror law has been invoked against Gopal — was more than three years old and no charge sheet had been filed so far.

Gopal was included in this case apparently because “he had already obtained anticipatory bails in some other cases in which he had apprehended arrest”.

Journalists’ associations in the state have condemned Gopal’s arrest. They said the way the editor has been treated has given rise to a perception that “vindictive action” was being taken against him for agreeing to become the previous government’s emissary.

But ruling party circles claimed that former Karnataka DGP C. Dhinakar’s memoir has robbed Gopal of the immunity he enjoyed so far. The former police officer had alleged that a ransom was paid to secure Rajkumar’s release and that money had changed hands at the residence of Karunanidhi.

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