Media

'Charges Smack of Vindictiveness': Journalists' Union Condemns FIRs Against The Wire

The criminal charges filed smack of vindictiveness and amount to a direct attack on press freedom, threat to freedom of speech and expression as well as a clear violation of the citizens’ right to access to information.

New Delhi: The Indian Journalists Union has joined the growing group of international and Indian journalists in condemning the Uttar Pradesh government’s FIRs against The Wire and the summons notice on its founding editor, Siddharth Varadarajan over a report on The Wire.

On April 11, as the entire country was under a lockdown, the Uttar Pradesh police served a notice to Varadarajan at his house in New Delhi, asking him to appear at the Ayodhya police station at 10 am on Tuesday, April 14, while the lockdown would continue.

The IJU noted that the FIRs “not only promptly followed a sinister threat from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s media advisor Mrityunjay Kumar but worse the UP police has served a hand-delivered notice all the way from UP to the Editor to appear before the Ayodhya authorities tomorrow (April 14) at a time when Prime Minister Modi’s nation-wide lockdown is underway!”

The statement, which says that the FIRs smack of vindictiveness and amount to a direct attack on press freedom, threat to freedom of speech and expression, is signed by the IJU’s secretary general, Sabina Inderjit. The text also notes that the step by the Adityanath government is a “clear violation of the citizens’ right to access to information.”

Also read: UP Police Serve Notice on The Wire, Summon Founding Editor to Ayodhya Despite Lockdown

The IJU has asked Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar to step in and ensure the Uttar Pradesh government does not dissolve a key connection between itself and the people.

More than 200 journalists have similarly condemned the FIRs in a statement.

The full text of the IJU’s statement is produced below:

New Delhi, 13 April 2020: The Indian Journalists Union strongly condemns Uttar Pradesh government’s brazen attempt to gag criticism and independent media by filing criminal charges against The Wire and one of its founding Editors and senior journalist Siddharth Varadrajan. Two FIRs filed against Siddharth and The Wire on April 1, not only promptly followed a sinister threat from Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s media advisor Mrityunjay Kumar but worse the UP police has served a hand-delivered notice all the way from UP to the Editor to appear before the Ayodhya authorities tomorrow (April 14) at a time when Prime Minister Modi’s nation-wide lockdown is underway!

The criminal charges filed, said the IJU, smack of vindictiveness and amount to a direct attack on press freedom, threat to freedom of speech and expression as well as a clear violation of the citizens’ right to access to information.

In a statement IJU President and former member of Press Council of India Geetartha Pathak and IJU Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit said the UP government’s actions were unwarranted as what was reported in The Wire was factual and far from being ‘fake news’ as alleged. Plus, Siddharth did issue a clarification to a quote wrongly attributed to Yogi as per journalistic norms in consonance with guidelines issued by Press council of India and should have sufficed.

The IJU said Yogi’s malafide intent to stifle all criticism is writ large, as though the FIRs are filed by ‘individuals’, these followed soon after his Media Advisor’s threat in a tweet on April 1: “He (Siddharth) was asked to remove the tweet and apologise and he didn’t. Action has been taken and FIR lodged. If you too are thinking of spreading lies against the Yogi government, kindly remove such thoughts.” And another one which read: “Another FIR has been filed against Varadrajan for spreading lies against CM Yogi. Hope he has donation to fight two cases!”

The IJU said the media advisor’s words must be marked and not be viewed alone as one against The Wire but the entire media fraternity, which is carrying out its due responsibility of informing the public in these unprecedented times of the pandemic, putting their health at risk. The FIRs registered by the Police and the summons physically issued by plainclothes men, who had driven 700-km in a black SUV with no number plate to Siddharth’s residence on April 10, is and abuse of power to intimidate the press and thud IJU demands these be withdrawn forthwith.

Expressing solidarity with The Wire and its team, the IJU also urged Prime Minister Modi and Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar to step in and ensure that the UP government does not make a mockery of their gratitude towards the media for acting as a link between the government and the people during these difficult times.