Skip to main content

20% of FIRs against journalists in 2020 alone, targeted attacks in 2021 'too many to count'

Counterview Desk 

Condemning what it calls “alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists” that “expose” the anti-people nature of the establishment, India's top civil society network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has demanded “immediate release of arrested journalists, withdrawal of arbitrary charges and protection of media persons facing threats.”
Asserting that “state is duty-bound to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed right of all media persons and groups reporting in public interest”, the statement regrets, “It is evident that large sections of mainstream media have been steadily converted into a toxic propaganda machine, reflecting solely the voice of the Centre, peddling lies, hate and misinformation incessantly.”

Text:

NAPM is outraged at the increasing number of instances of the state blatantly targeting news outlets and journalists who refuse to budge and report the truth in public interest, despite threats from those in power. These threats come either directly from the establishment and its agencies or from those whom the state covertly enables to stifle fair and fearless journalism.
Reports show that over the past decade, more than 150 journalists in India were arrested, had FIRs lodged against them, were detained and interrogated, either under ‘terror’ related charges, sedition charges or the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and, after the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, under the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Diseases Act as well.
The year 2020 alone saw 20% of these cases, with the large majority concentrated in BJP ruled states. At a time when many journalists are also staring at retrenchments and livelihood insecurity, the presence of threats entailed by the very nature of reporting under this regime only makes matters worse.
It is now evident that large sections of mainstream media have been steadily converted into a toxic propaganda machine, reflecting solely the voice of the Centre, peddling lies, hate and misinformation incessantly. At the same time, journalists who stand by the ethics of their profession face threats and even violence, with almost 200 physical attacks against them between 2014 and 2019, and multiple deaths.
Less than a month and a half into 2021, the instances of violence against and targeting of journalists are already too many to count. One of the most blatant examples is the recent raid by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on “Newsclick”, an independent online news platform. Starting the February 9, over eight premises, including the office of “Newsclick”, homes of some of its journalists and senior management were raided.
For over a marathon 113 hours, the ED camped at the residence of editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha and writer Githa Hariharan, virtually placing them in home detention for 5 days. “Newsclick” has been consistently reporting on the farmers’ protests and also on an entire range of people’s movements and issues ignored by much of the mainstream media.
On January 30, Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist who has contributed for “The Caravan” magazine and “Junputh”, was dragged by the Delhi Police across the police barricades at Singhu Border, from where he had been reporting from day 1 of the Farmers’ Protests. His arrest has been the most recent and horrific case of repression by the State against journalists instrumental in speaking truth to power.
An FIR was registered against him in Alipur Police Station at 1.21 a.m. for allegedly ‘assaulting a police official’ at around 6.30 p.m, the previous evening. A video of the police brutally dragging him at the border went viral. His is one of the rare cases in recent times in which an arrested journalist receives bail, along with a clear acknowledgement by the Magistrate that ‘bail is a rule and jail is an exception.’
As many as five FIRs have been filed against prominent journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, “The Caravan” magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K Jose. The given grounds for the FIRs are allegedly ‘promoting enmity between different groups, insult with intent to provoke breach of peace and criminal conspiracy’.
These FIRs pertain to tweets and reports which alleged that a farmer was shot on 26th January, during the Farmers’ Republic Day Parade. On January 30, the UP police filed an FIR against Siddharth Varadarajan, Founder Editor of “The Wire” for a report that had the allegations of the dead farmer’s family.
Prior to this, on January 25, 2021, three Kanpur-based TV journalists, Mohit Kashyap, Amit Singh and Yasin Ali, were booked after they ran a story that showed how children in a government school were shivering in the cold while practising yoga in the open. This took place during a government event which was attended by the technology minister in the UP government, Ajit Singh Pal.
On January 20, 2021, a lower court in Gujarat issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in a defamation case filed by Adani against him for stories published in "The Wire" in 2017. The Gujarat High Court subsequently suspended the warrant and directed him to appear before the lower court in the matter.
Also in January, journalists Dhiren Sadokpam, Paojel Chaoba and M Joy Luwang from Manipur were arrested for a piece in “The Frontier Manipur”. They were charged with sedition and under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), laws which have been used indiscriminately across the country against activists and journalists alike, especially in the past few years.
These cases are proof to the attack on free speech that is underway across the country. They are a continuation of state repression against journalists who have been reporting on the government’s excesses over the rights of its citizens.
The arrest and unconstitutional incarceration of Siddique Kappan is symbolic of this repression. He was on his way to report the Hathras rape case in Uttar Pradesh when he and three others were charged and arrested under UAPA. He has been in jail since October 2020 without trial or bail, not even allowed to meet his extremely ill, 90-year-old mother.
On November 22, 2020, a TV journalist, identified as Pongi Naganna was arrested in Vishakapatnam, on the charge of being a ‘courier’ for the Maoists. This arrest was followed by arrests of many other activists under UAPA. Other major instances of journalists being targeted include the repeated arrests and incarceration over months, of Prashant Kanojia for social media posts calling out the UP government.
Looking back at 2020 reveals that this trend is not new. In November, 2020 the Meghalaya High Court refused to quash criminal proceedings against Patricia Mukhim, Editor of Shillong Times for a Facebook post which was seen as tantamount to promoting ‘disharmony between communities’. Earlier in November 2019, N Venugupal, the editor of “Veekshanam”, a progressive Telugu magazine, was charged under UAPA and the Telangana Public Security Act.
On September 26, 2020 senior journalist Kamal Shukla, editor of “Bhumkal Sumatra” magazine and head of the Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, was physically assaulted in Kanker (North Bastar) district of Chhattisgarh. According to local journalists, the incident took place in the afternoon when Shukla went to the local police station after hearing that a journalist, Satish Yadav, had been assaulted by local municipal corporators belonging to the ruling Congress party.
Also in September 2020 journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem was arrested by the Manipur Police on charges of sedition to be granted bail only in December.
One of the most blatant examples is recent raid by Enforcement Directorate on Newsclick, an independent online news platform
The continued incarceration, for over two years, of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, who has been charged under UAPA allegedly on grounds unrelated to his journalism, is one of many reminders that journalists in Kashmir have been reporting under atrocious conditions of surveillance and violence, especially after the abrogation of Article 370.
It is an extremely sad reflection of our ‘democracy’ that crucial constitutional matters such as blanket media and internet curbs in Kashmir have not been attended to with due urgency even by the Apex Court.
The attitude of the state towards journalists and the many strategies of suppression they employ also include and encourage attacks specifically targeted against women journalists. Journalist Neha Dixit who has been uncovering many uncomfortable truths of state excesses, has recently reported someone barging into her home, as well as stalking; and death and rape threats.
Initially the police refused to file an FIR against the accused, in spite of the fact that she was able to provide them with phone numbers. An FIR was filed only after much pursuit, although there is little headway in the matter.
Recently, the Network of Women in Media India expressed concerns over Pushpa Rokde receiving warnings and death threats, allegedly from the ‘Maoist South Bastar Pamed Area Committee’, for her journalistic work as well as for short-term work unconnected to journalism. Considering her ongoing reporting on state violence, as well as on issues faced by Adivasi people in the villages of the area, it is difficult to imagine, though, why she would be accused by ‘Maoists’ of being a ‘police informer’, the statement said.
The journalists mentioned above are by no means representative of the range of attacks that have taken place in the past decade. Journalists working in conflict zones, in non-metro areas, face challenges and forms of repression which often do not even make the news. We, therefore, need to be constantly vigilant to safeguarding the interests of those who are reporting from difficult conditions.
In this context, we mark with increasing worry, the impunity with which so called ‘pro-nation’ individuals and groups can make public threats against journalists and media houses and engage in vitriolic conspiracy theory in the guise of ‘exposes’, inciting viewers to violence and at times even aggressively demanding that the state hang them!
Not only is no action taken against them, but their voices are given further platform by position holders within the ruling party and its allies, while those against whom threats are made, are brought under state scrutiny for amplifying voices of dissent, and face arrests, raids and violence.
To return to the most recent events, a youtuber calling for prominent independent media journalists to ‘be hanged’ for questioning state interventions during lockdown and for reporting on the farmers’ protests has been brazenly lauded by BJP leaders including Kapil Mishra, Tajinder Bagga and CG Surya, ex Shiv-Sena member Ramesh Solanki, RSS volunteer who led the BJP’s social media campaign in 2014, Vikas Pandey, and others, with no consideration for the grotesque nature of the insinuations and the calls for violence.
At the same time, the BJP government issues warnings to social media platforms to curtail what it calls ‘inflammatory content and misinformation,’ showing a convenient disregard for the truth and for the meaning of free speech and journalism.
Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech & expression through writing, printing, pictures, electronic broadcasting and media and it is fundamental to the idea of democracy. The control over information and news by the Central and state governments through brutal measures is nothing but fascist in nature and goes against the democratic framework enshrined in the Indian Constitution. While there is a need for legal frameworks for the protection of journalists, the steps proposed by some states, like the Maharashtra Media Person and Media Institutions Bill (2017) and the proposed Chhattisgarh Protection of Media Persons Act (2020) are insufficient, especially in instances where reporting takes place against government authorities who are then tasked with protecting the journalists.
  • NAPM condemns the violations of freedom of press and expression and the attempts to build a mainstream media entirely under the control of the state. In spite of the Supreme Court’s recent observation that inflammatory content needs to be checked, the patronage provided to media establishments by the current regime, turns them into tools of indoctrination and obfuscation of any form of opposition to government’s catering to corporate, majoritarian interests.
  • We demand that FIRs against journalists be quashed and those currently incarcerated be released immediately. The State must stop acting as the violator and protect the rights of journalists, especially women subjected to threats of gendered violence.
  • We denounce the state’s concerted efforts to vilify media houses and journalists who amplify the concerns of people belonging to minority communities, farmers, workers, women, activists, historically oppressed communities asking for their rights; or report on corporate, environmental crimes or provide critical reviews of anti-people policies. The long-standing demand of many journalists to ensure legislative protection for media persons, based on the PUCL draft bill and upholding human rights standards must be duly considered.
  • We continue to stand in solidarity with all the journalists who have been targeted by the central government or the state governments for reporting on issues that have exposed their anti-people policies, and with media platforms across the country which show the true state of affairs in society, be it in small towns or big cities.
  • In times of corporate and state-controlled mass media, we firmly believe that democracy can be rescued only if all of us, as citizens actively support and invest in independent journalism.
---
Click here for signatories

Comments

Urs Ateeque said…
very sad to know 20% of FIRs against journalists lodged.Immigration Consultants

TRENDING

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

BSF should take full responsibility for death of 4 kids in West Bengal: Rights defender

By Kirity Roy*  One is deeply disturbed and appalled by the callous trench-digging by BSF in Chetnagachh village under Daspara Gram Panchayat, Chopra, North Dinajpur District, West Bengal that has claimed the lives of four children. Along the entire stretch of Indo-Bangladesh border of West Bengal instead of guarding the actual border delineated by the international border pillars, BSF builds fences and digs trenches well inside the Indian territory, passing through villages and encroaching on private lands, often without due clearance or consent. 

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

How GMOs would destroy non-GMO crops: Aruna Rodrigues' key submissions in SC

Counterview Desk The introduction of Bt and HT crops will harm the health of 1 billion Indians and their animals, believes Aruna Rodrigues, who has made some 60 submissions to the Supreme Court (SC) during the last 20 years. As lead petitioner who filed Public Interest Litigation in 2005, during a spate of intense hearings, which ended on 18 January 2024, she fought in the Apex Court to prevent the commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Indian agriculture. 

Social justice day amidst 'official neglect' of salt pan workers in Little Rann of Kutch

By Prerana Pamkar*  In India’s struggle for Independence, the Salt Satyagraha stands as a landmark movement and a powerful symbol of nonviolent resistance. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, countless determined citizens walked from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi in Gujarat. However, the Gujarat which witnessed the power of the common Indian during the freedom struggle is now in the throes of another significant movement: this time it is seeking to free salt pan workers from untenable working conditions in the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK).

Corporatizing Indian agriculture 'to enhance' farmer efficiency, market competitiveness

By Shashank Shukla*  Today, amidst the ongoing farmers' protest, one of the key demands raised is for India to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO). Let us delve into the feasibility of such a move and explore its historical context within India's globalization trajectory.

Jallianwala massacre: Why Indian govt hasn't ever officially sought apology from UK

By Manjari Chatterjee Miller*  The king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, apologized in July 2023 for his ancestors’ role in the colonial slave trade. He is not alone in expressing remorse for past wrongs. In 2021, France returned 26 works of art seized by French colonial soldiers in Africa – the largest restitution France has ever made to a former colony. In the same year, Germany officially apologized for its 1904-08 genocide of the Herero and Nama people of Namibia and agreed to fund reconstruction and development projects in Namibia. .

Interpreting UAPA bail provisions: Is Supreme Court setting the clock back?

By Kavita Srivastava*, Dr V Suresh** The Supreme Court in its ruling on 7th February, 2024 in   `Gurvinder Singh v State of Punjab’ held that its own well-developed jurisprudence that "Bail is the rule and jail the exception" will not apply to those charged under the UAPA.

A 'distorted narrative' of Indian politics: Congress failing to look beyond LS polls

By Prem Singh*  About 15 days ago, I told a senior journalist friend that there are not even two   months left for the Lok Sabha elections, Rahul Gandhi is roaming around on a delectation (tafreeh). The friend probably found my comment exasperating and replied that he is not on a delectation trip. The conversation between us on this topic ended there. 

Livelihood issues return to national agenda ahead of LS polls: SKM on Bharat Bandh

Counterview Desk  Top farmers' network, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has claimed big success of Grameen Bharat Bandh and industrial /sectoral strikes, stating, the “struggle reflected anger of farmers, workers and rural people across India”, adding, the move on February 16 succeeded in bringing back peoples’ livelihood issues in the national agenda just ahead of the general election to the Lok Sabha.