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HOURS AFTER journalist R Gopal, editor of Tamil bi-weekly Nakkeeran, was arrested for a series of reports which allegedly had damaging references to Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit, the court ordered his release on Tuesday.

Gopal was arrested under Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — “assaulting President, Governor etc with intent to compel or restrain the exercise of any lawful power”. He was produced before the 13th Egmore Metropolitan Magistrate Gopinath, who refused to grant his remand and questioned the validity of the IPC section.

According to the FIR filed by Chennai Police, 35 Nakkeeran workers have been booked under Section 124 IPC, including editor in-charge Kovai Lenin, chief deputy editor Aaraavayal,  14 reporters and 10 administrative staff.

Nakkeeran had reported that Purohit and his secretary, R Rajagopal, had held several meetings with Nirmala Devi, an assistant professor of Devanga Arts College in Aruppukottai, in Virudhunagar district, who was arrested in April on the basis of an audio clip in which she purportedly asked girl students to extend sexual favours to officials in return for marks and money.

Earlier, Purohit had denied meeting Devi. “I do not know the lady, I have never met the lady. I am surrounded by so many people always and it is not possible for anyone to meet me without my permission,” he had said at a press conference in April.

As Governor, Purohit is Chancellor of the Madurai Kamaraj University, to which the college is affiliated. Devi had named some senior higher education officials at the university.  Nakkeeran, which claimed that its report was based on a police investigation report, also expressed concern over Devi’s safety in prison, citing some recent “suicides” of high-profile prisoners in the state.

Gopal was arrested from the Chennai airport around 8.15 am on Tuesday, when he was set to board a flight to Pune. According to the case document, the arrest was made on a complaint filed by “T Sengottaiyan, deputy secretary to the governor”, about a report in Nakkeeran in April.

Gopal was taken for a medical check-up, before being produced before the magistrate. During the hearing, the court also allowed senior journalist N Ram to speak on behalf of the media, along with Gopal’s lawyers. His counsel argued that Section 124 was invalid in the case, and said the arrest set a bad precedent as it dragged the Governor’s office into an ugly controversy.

While DMK president M K Stalin visited Gopal in hospital, MDMK leader Vaiko was denied permission to meet him at the police station.

“This release is a great hope for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Nakkeeran’s work will continue,” said Gopal, who hit the headlines in the 1990s when he did a series of interviews with forest brigand Veerappan, and later acted as his mediator.

While the case involving Devi was handed over to the CB-CID wing of the state police on April 18, the transfer of CB-CID chief K Jayanth Murali on the same day raised many questions. When a separate investigation was ordered by the university, Purohit appointed a retired IAS officer, G Santhanam, to probe the matter. Santhanam admitted that he wouldn’t be able to examine Purohit, and his report, submitted in May, was never made public

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