New Delhi: Two media freedom organisations have issued a joint call to Indian authorities to stop using sedition laws in an effort to silence independent journalists.
In a joint letter the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi “to take immediate steps to ensure that journalists can work without harassment and fear of reprisal..and to direct the state governments to drop all charges against journalists, including those under the draconian sedition laws, that have been imposed on them for their work”.
The International Press Institute is a global network of media professionals and the International Federation of Journalists represents 6,00,000 journalists in 141 countries.
This is not the first time in the course of the last few months that the IFJ has spoken against the charges against Indian journalists. In May it had said that the “trend suggests that state governments of India” were trying to “silence the critical voice” by lodging FIRs against journalists.
The call is especially significant in the backdrop of Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan’s arrest while on his way to Hathras on October 5. Kappan was promptly slapped with a sedition charge.
The editor of a Gujarati news portal, Dhaval Patel, was charged with sedition and questioned by the police after he published a report that suggested the chief minister could be changed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party due to rising number of coronavirus cases in the state.
He was also accused of spreading false panic under Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
The letter also notes the case of Chhattisgarh editor Kamal Shukla who was charged with sedition for sharing a cartoon on Facebook that referred to the Supreme Court’s decision to reject petitions calling for an independent investigation into Judge Loya’s death in 2014.
The letter also mentions the case of Vinod Dua, who was charged with sedition by Himachal Pradesh police.
These are not the only cases where journalists have been unfairly treated due to their work. On April 20, the J&K Police announced that it had filed an FIR against Kashmiri photojournalist Masrat Zahra under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The same act was used to charge senior Kashmir journalist Gowhar Geelani.
The joint letter states: “The number of cases filed against journalists have increased enormously after the spread of the pandemic. The health crisis is being used as an excuse to silence those who have exposed shortcoming in the government’s response to it, while on the contrary it is important for both citizens and the public authorities to have factual information about the situation in order to best respond to the pandemic. A free media is essential to a successful public health response.
“The use of sedition laws to harass independent, critical journalists is not only a gross violation of the country’s international commitments, it is also an attempt by the government to silence any criticism. Journalistic work cannot be equated to sedition or undermining security”.