New Delhi: The international press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Uttar Pradesh to immediately withdraw the criminal complaints lodged against the founder-editor of The Wire, calling it as an attempt to silence the media outlet.
In a statement, CPJ said that the filing of the complaint was a misuse of the coronavirus lockdown to harass The Wire. “Misusing the COVID-19 lockdown to legally harass The Wire editor Siddharth Vardarajan is an attack on press freedom and an attempt to silence and discredit the journalist and the news outlet,” said CPJ’s senior Asia researcher in New York, Aliya Iftikhar. “The Uttar Pradesh police should immediately drop the criminal investigation into Vardarajan,” she said.
On Wednesday, officer in charge of police station in Faizabad city, Nitish Kumar Shrivastava and a local resident, Harvajan Godh had asked the police to investigate Varadarajan for criticising Uttar Pradesh Chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
The complaint was based on three counts – disobeying the government’s order on the national lockdown under Section 188 of the Indian Penal Code, making statements that would cause enmity and hatred among communities under Section 505 (2) of the penal code, and cheating by impersonation by using a computer resource under Section 66D of the Information Technology Act. “CPJ could not determine why “impersonation” is referenced,” said the statement from the watchdog.
In his complaint, Srivastav wrote, “The Wire editor on his blog, with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public, publicised the following message: ‘On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Yogi Adityanath insisted that a large fair planned for Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navami from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual while Acharya Paramhans said that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus.”
Godh claimed that a tweet by Varadarajan had caused him “anguish”.
The Wire had issued a statement on April 2 that the registration of the FIR is a “blatant attack on the freedom of the press”. “What the FIR says we have stated – that Chief Minister Adityanath attended a public religious event in Ayodhya on March 25 after the Prime Minister had announced a national lockdown to deal with the coronavirus challenge – is a matter of record,” said the founder-editors of The Wire.