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FIR against Caravan journos suggests 'continuing pattern of persecution'

Counterview Desk 
The civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), has demanded withdrawal of FIR against three "Caravan" journalists who faced "assault" while reporting on the 2020 Delhi "pogrom."
"As it comes back to power with a reduced majority, the BJP seeks to continue its offensive against democratic voices, including independent media", NAPM asserted.
"We stand in solidarity with journalists facing constant attacks, false cases and arrests meant to restrain their free and fearless reporting", it added. 

Text:

The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), strongly condemns the recent action of Delhi Police in filing an FIR against three journalists of "The Caravan", merely for diligently doing their duty of reporting during the targeted communal violence in North-East Delhi in 2020. We are aware that this move is part of the pattern of persecution that journalists who report truth to power and question the establishment have been facing for many years now!
As it comes back to power with a reduced majority, the BJP seeks to continue its offensive against democratic voices, including independent media. NAPM is of the view that this is an outright attack on the press and freedom of speech and expression. We demand that the said FIR against journalists of "The Caravan" be withdrawn forthwith and the right of media persons to report in a free and fearless manner be upheld. 
As has been widely reported, the impugned FIR against the journalists has been registered in a questionable manner, and has come to light literally four years after the violence was orchestrated in Delhi by the right-wing regime.  In 2020, three journalists covering the aftermath of the North-east Delhi pogrom were assaulted in the north Ghonda area, of Bhajanpura PS. Ten days back, the journalists learnt about the FIR against them, when they received a notice to be part of the investigation. It has been reported that the FIR includes serious sections of IPC such as 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), Sec 354 (Assault or criminal force with intent to outrage modesty of woman), Sec 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), r/w Sec 34 (common intention).
On 11th August 2020, Shahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman journalist working with "The Caravan", were following-up on a story in the north Ghonda neighbourhood, when a mob, some of whom identified themselves as affiliated to the ruling BJP, assaulted them, used communal slurs, and threatened to kill them. Shahid was particularly targeted for being Muslim after he showed his ID card to an angry mob. The female journalist was also sexually harassed in the attack. Reportedly, the attack went on for close to 1.5 hours. The journalists filed a detailed complaint after their ordeal. While the complaint was filed on the same day, the Police delayed the matter for 3 days and registered an FIR only on the 14th of August, 2020. The attack on the journalists was condemned widely, including by the Editors Guild of India, which demanded action against those who roughed up the journalists.
Shockingly, it has now come to light that the Delhi Police first registered an FIR against the three journalists on the complaint of a BJP leader’s wife, and delayed the journalists’ FIR by three days, treating it as a “counter-FIR”! Over four years, the journalists were not even given a copy of the FIR against them, citing its ‘sensitive nature’. Not only that, there has been no progress on the FIR filed by the journalists, clearly indicating the partisan manner in which the Delhi Police has been functioning. 
On the day of the incident in August 2020, the three journalists were following up on a previous report in "The Caravan" on a complaint of misconduct against Delhi Police. The original report explored a Muslim woman’s complaint against certain personnel of the Delhi Police beating and sexually assaulting her and her minor daughter. She was one of the complainants against the attack on Muslims in the North-east Delhi violence earlier that year.
In late 2019 and early 2020, Delhi and numerous cities and towns across India became centres for a women-led mass uprising for equal citizenship and against the unconstitutional CAA-NRC-NPR, proposed by the Union government. Instead of democratically addressing the genuine concerns of agitated people, especially muslims who have already been facing many years of apartheid in India under the BJP, a vicious attempt by the ruling party leaders to provoke and instigate violence began.
Many activists who opposed the anti-constitutional CAA were booked under draconian laws such as UAPA and to this day, some of them like Khalid Saifi, Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Gulshifa Fatima, Meeran Haider etc. are behind bars and haven’t been granted bails. On the other hand, despite video evidence showing the likes of Kapil Mishra and other BJP leaders openly instigating crowds for violence against Muslims, in the presence of the police, no strong legal action has been taken against them. 
In the past 4 years, investigations by the Delhi Police in cases related to the 2020 Delhi violence suggest communal-bias and unfair handling, as also concluded in independent fact-finding reports by civil society groups. As per reports, 15 Hindus and 38 Muslims lost their lives, in the violence and the homes and bastis of muslims were particularly targeted and burnt down. Not only were the complaints of Muslims affected by violence not filed meticulously, they were infact booked and implicated in a large number of cases.
In the past 4 years, investigations by the Delhi Police in cases related to the 2020 Delhi violence suggest communal-bias and unfair handling
It is in the light of such a deplorable state of affairs and complicity of the authorities, that the role of independent journalism becomes even more significant. "The Caravan" is well-known for its bold and investigative style of long-form journalism. In 2023, the magazine won the Shorenstein Journalism Award by the prestigious Stanford University, as it was declared by the selection committee as the “last bastion of bold investigative journalism in India under extreme duress”. The publication’s journalists have also won awards including IPI India Award for Excellence in Journalism in 2023 and ACJ Award for Investigative Journalism in 2018. As stated by "The Caravan" in its press release, the FIR against its journalists is completely false and fabricated and is an attempt to muzzle their reporting.
Over the last decade, mainstream media houses have either toed the fascist and authoritarian government’s line or been bought over by billionaires close to the ruling dispensation. From the 140th position in 2014, when the BJP under Mr. Narendra Modi formed the Govt at the centre, India has slipped further to 159, out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index. A report by Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) says that 194 journalists were targeted across India in 2022. Out of these, 103 were targeted by state actors while 91 were targeted by non-state actors including political activists. Out of these, 7 journalists were killed.
While most mainstream media platforms have been reduced to propaganda mouthpieces of the ruling party, ‘alternate’ or progressive media groups, independent journalists, fact-checkers, youtubers etc. have been working overtime to bring facts and truthful analysis to people. However, they have been facing online abuse, threats of violence, physical and sexual harassment as well as assaults. Protecting our journalists’ freedom to report critically is ensuring a fundamental tenet of democracy, our right to information and our ability to make informed decisions. 
National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), salutes our brave independent media, working against many odds. We acknowledge the persecution of the three journalists by the Delhi Police as a part of the broader attack on non-establishment media and independent journalists. We demand that:
  • The Delhi Police must immediately withdraw the FIR against the three journalists of Caravan.
  • The FIR filed by the journalists must be properly investigated with the Delhi High Court monitoring the investigation, to ensure no misuse of power takes place against the journalists.
  • The actions of police officers at the Bhajanpura station must be investigated impartially. If found guilty, the errant police personnel must be penalised. 
  • The Delhi Police, which comes under the authority of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, along with other state agencies, must stop the culture of targeting and harassing journalists critical of the government and/or the ruling party. 
  • The government must commit to protecting freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
  • Anti-CAA activists, who were exercising their democratic right to protest a law widely perceived to be unjust and anti-constitutional, must be immediately released and cases against them withdrawn.
  • An unbiased inquiry must be initiated under the supervision of the Supreme Court, to ascertain concerns regarding the communal, vindictive and biased role of the Delhi Police during and after the 2020 Delhi violence.
  • Errant officers of the Delhi Police must be penalised, if found guilty of conducting biased investigations and/or dereliction of duty.

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