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Deadly threat from Modi's nationalism, warns Reporters Without Borders, as India "slips" in Press Freedom Index

By Our Representative
In its new ranking, the prestigious international non-profit, non-government organization, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), has ranked India 138th out of 180 countries it has assessed in its World Press Freedom Index (WPFI). Ranking two points lower than two years (India ranked 136th in 2017), RWB has blamed “Deadly threat from Modi’s nationalism” for India’s poor ranking.
Commenting on its new ranking, worked out against the backdrop of World Press Freedom Day (May 3), RWB said, “With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media and journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals.”
Noting that “at least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work”, including the newspaper editor Gauri Lankesh, “who had been the target of a hate campaign on social networks”, RWB said, “Three other journalists were killed for their professional activity in March 2018.”
India's "deadliest" states for journalists
According to RWF, “Prosecutions are also used to gag journalists who are overly critical of the government, with some prosecutors invoking Section 124a of the penal code, under which ‘sedition’ is punishable by life imprisonment”, underlining, “No journalist has so far been convicted of sedition but the threat encourages self-censorship.”
RWF said, “Coverage of regions that the authorities regard as sensitive, such as Kashmir, continues to be very difficult. Foreign reporters are barred from the region and the Internet is often disconnected there. When not detained, Kashmiri journalists working for local media outlets are often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent.”
RWF has ranked Pakistan 139th, just one point lower than India, and same as 2017, even as ranking Bangladesh 146th. However, India’s three other neighbours rank better than India: Nepal 106th, Sri Lanka 131th and Myanmar 136th.
RWF ranking comes amidst its strong condemnation of “physical attacks on journalists covering last month’s process of filing candidate nominations for panchayat elections in West Bengal, calling on the authorities t”o ensure that journalists are protected during the coming elections.” Ten journalists were attacked by party activists while covering the nomination process on April 23, the last day for filing nominations.
Rana Ayyub
“Many others were attacked early in the month by supporters of Trinamool Congress (TMC), West Bengal’s ruling party, and by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP, India’s ruling party”, RWF noted.
Last month, RWF condemned what it called “unprecedented week-old hate campaign on social networks against Indian freelance journalist Rana Ayyub”, calling on the “government and the New Delhi police to do whatever is necessary to protect her.” It said, “Ayyub has been exposed to a living hell ever since 20 April, when a tweet purporting to have been posted by a TV channel falsely quoted her as having defended the perpetrators of the gang-rape of a child and as having accused the Hindu nationalist government of using the case to persecute Muslims.”
“A torrent of sexist insults ensued. Porn videos have been posted online with her head digitally imposed over the heads of the actresses. There have even been calls for her to be gang-raped and murdered”, RWF says, quoting Ayyub as saying, “I couldn’t sleep for three nights, I couldn’t talk… The trolls posted my phone number, the address of my house online. If this is the depth of their hatred, what will stop them from coming into my house as a mob and kill me?”
According RWF, “A Facebook post left little doubt about the source of the campaign. Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it said: ‘Look, Rana Ayyub, what they’ve spread about you. Don’t ever dare to speak about Hindus and Modi again’.”
“Ayyub, who was nominated last October for the RSF Press Freedom Prize, is famous for a book she wrote describing how Modi exploited the anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat in 2002, which marked the start of his rise to the position of Prime Minister”, RWF said.

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Uma Sheth said…
It feels like Emergency days are back again--only in a different guise

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