The arrest of three journalists in eastern Uttar Pradesh's Ballia last week over their alleged role in an exam paper leak has been strongly condemned by the Press Club of India which has called the move "arbitrary" and demanded their immediate release.
The three journalists - Ajit Ojha and Digvijay Singh, who work with the Hindi daily Amar Ujala, and Manoj Gupta, who works with another Hindi newspaper, were arrested by the UP Police for their alleged roles in the leak of the Class 12 English question paper of the Uttar Pradesh school examination board last month.
The police have made over 30 other arrests in the same district and claim the arrests are linked to the leak of the now rescheduled paper.
But the arrested journalists claim they are being framed by the district administration because of their reportage.
"I activated my sources and got hold of the leaked (Class 10) Sanskrit paper and sent it to my newspaper. It got published in the newspaper. The next day, the newspaper also printed the leaked (Class 12) English paper. This exposed the Ballia administration. These people got angry with us and we were framed in a criminal case. This is an assault on the freedom of the press," Digvijay Singh, one of the arrested journalists, said in a statement.
"I am being asked repeatedly where I got the papers from and I said I got it from my sources. But these people have framed me instead," Mr Singh added.
The administration has claimed the Class 10 Sanskrit paper was not leaked.
A second arrested journalist who works with the same newspaper claimed local officials asked him for a copy of the leaked Class 12 English question paper and he sent it to them in good faith.
"I came to my office but later the cops barged in and treated me like a criminal. I was pushed and shoved," Ajit Ojha said in a video statement.
In a statement released via its Twitter handle, the Press Club of India said, "It is highly condemnable on the part of Ballia district administration to arbitrarily arrest those Ballia-based journalists who had exposed the leak of 12th examination English paper. It is just akin to a case of the kettle calling the pot black."
"Of late, it has been observed that the Uttar Pradesh government is going hammer and tongs to threaten and actually arrest those mediapersons who don't toe the line of the government thinking over the issues of policy measures. And, the sycophant and more-than-eager Uttar Pradesh Police and bureaucrats don't waste time in arresting mediapersons at the first-available opportunity to please powers-that-be," the statement said.
The UP police say their investigation in the case is on and more details will be made public soon.
"Three different cases have been registered in the district. Over 30 people have been arrested so far. Our investigation is on. We cannot disclose what the role of the journalists is. One of those arrested is an assistant teacher who was also an invigilator. We will disclose more details as our investigation proceeds, we are still working on the role of the journalists in the case," Raj Karan Nayyar, Ballia's police chief said when asked why the journalists had been arrested.
There have been protests by journalists in Ballia and elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh over the arrests and different journalist associations in UP have demanded their immediate release.