New Delhi: Two journalist bodies have condemned the lodging of FIRs against journalists on “trumped up charges for their critical reporting regarding the clear mismanagement of the response to Covid-19”, specifically referring to the charges pressed against Uttar Pradesh-based reporter Ravindra Saxena and Gujarat-based editor Dhaval Patel.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said that the “present trend suggests that state governments of India” are trying to “silence the critical voice” by lodging FIRs against journalists. “These acts are a violation of the public’s right to know. The IFJ calls on the authorities to drop all charges against Ravindra Saxena and cease the harassment of journalists for reporting on the health pandemic,” the statement read.
The National Union of Journalists, India (NUJI) condemned the FIR against Saxena and demanded the immediate withdrawal of all charges.
As The Wire has reported, FIRs have been registered against journalists in Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar, among others, often for highlighting shortcomings in governance during the imposition of the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
In early April, the UP police had also filed an FIR against The Wire and its founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan for a news article on chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
Professional bodies such as the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild of India have condemned the action against journalists.
The complete statement has been replicated below.
The Uttar Pradesh (UP) government has filed a First Information Report (FIR) against Today 24 news journalist Ravindra Saxena for his report highlighting the mismanagement of a quarantine centre in the Sitapur district. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists- India condemn the FIR on false accusations and call on the UP government to withdraw the criminal proceedings against the journalist.
Journalist Ravindra Saxena was sued on May 18 under the Prevention of Atrocities Act and the Disaster Management Act in an order from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath for a video report on the mismanagement of a quarantine centre in Maholi Tehsil in the Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh. People kept in the quarantine centre had complained that the UP administration was serving rotten rice.
The FIR against Saxena is one in a series of cases launched against journalists for their critical report of the government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier, Dhaval Patel, the editor of Gujarati Face of Nation news website, was arrested on May 11 and charged with sedition for publishing a report that alleged Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may be replaced for mishandling the Covid-19 response. Similarly, on May 10 Delhi police summoned Delhi based Indian Express reporter Mahender Singh Manral for questioning over his news reports about the alleged doctoring of an audio clip attributed to Tablighi Jamaat chief Maulana Saad. Also, during the lockdown, Himachal Pradesh’s journalists faced FIRs and harassment for allegedly violating the Indian Penal Code and the Disaster Management Act for their coverage during the Covid-19 lockdown.
NUJ-I said: “We condemn the FIR against journalist Saxena and demand the withdrawal of all the charges against him.”
IFJ said: “The present trend suggests that state governments of India are trying to silence the critical voice by lodging FIRs against journalists on trumped up charges for their critical reporting regarding the clear mismanagement of the response to Covid-19. These acts are a violation of the public’s right to know. The IFJ calls on the authorities to drop all charges against Ravindra Saxena and cease the harassment of journalists for reporting on the health pandemic.”