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New Delhi: Two reporters working with the Western Uttar Pradesh-based media outlet ChalChitra Abhiyaan were, on Wednesday, July 20, reportedly threatened for reporting on the impacts of the recent hike in the rate of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The reporters – Shakib Rangrezz and Vishal Stonewall – were reportedly approached by a man while they were covering the story in Kishanpur Baral village in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat, who tried to snatch away their equipment and threatened them for speaking to the local farmers there.
ChalChitra Abhiyaan founder Nakul Singh Sawhney took to Twitter to describe the incident, writing, “This is the state of press freedom and ground reporting in India.”
आप अपनी लिखित शिकायत रमाला थाने पर दे सकते है। DM कर सकते हैं। आपकी शिकायत पर नियमानुसार वैधानिक कार्यवाही की जायेगी। बागपत पुलिस आपको आश्वस्त करती है।
— Baghpat Police (@baghpatpolice) July 20, 2022
Sawhney, in his tweet, also alleged that the man who attacked the reporters was a worker of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that he “got violent”.
Bhagpat police responded to Sawhney’s tweet, directing him to file a complaint at the Ramala police station and assuring him of legal action “as per rules”.
Sawhney, further, told digital news platform Newslaundry that this was not the first time reporters working with his organisation had been targeted in this manner but, as a pattern has begun to emerge, he decided to speak out this time around.
He further said that the fact that many reporters working with ChalChitra Abhiyaan came from vulnerable minority communities made them easier targets.
Stonewall, himself, is a former brick kiln worker while Rangrezz is a survivor of the 2013 communal riots in Muzaffarnagar.
Rangrezz told the news outlet that the two reporters were speaking to the local villagers about the impacts of the GST hike when the man accosted them, attempting to snatch their camera and microphone.
“He threatened us saying that we had better leave or he would call other people. We were stopped from doing journalism,” Newslaundry quoted Rangrezz as saying.
Stonewall further said that the man accused the reporters of spreading falsehoods about the government and told them not to report from there.
Following the revelations, DIGIPUB – an umbrella organisation of digital news publications – issued a statement condemning the action against Rangrezz and Stonewall.
In the statement, the organisation highlighted the fact that journalists in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh have repeatedly been obstructed from doing their job through violence and intimidation, noting that press freedom is “especially fragile” in the northern state.
“This repeated pattern of intimidation and physical assaults on journalists in Uttar Pradesh by unknown assailants who prevent journalists from reporting on the government must be halted,” the statement read.
DIGIPUB further called upon the state government to “sensitise the authorities about the vital role of the free press in a democratic society and to deal with people who attack reporters with the full force of the law”.
Further, it urged the Uttar Pradesh police to conduct an investigation into the attack “to ensure that the constitutional right to free speech and expression is protected”.
Further, the Asia chapter of the COmmittee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) tweeted its condemnation of the incident, urging the police to investigate it and hold the perpetrator to account.
#India: CPJ condemns the attack on @ChalchitraAbhi journalists @stonewallvishal and @mshakib08 and calls on the @Uppolice to investigate the incident and to hold the perpetrators accountable. #JournalismIsNotACrime https://t.co/qPCy1mMJ44
— CPJ Asia (@CPJAsia) July 20, 2022
DIGIPUB’s statement is reproduced in full, below:
DIGIPUB strongly condemns the attacks on journalists of Chalchitra Abhiyaan while reporting in Uttar Pradesh
On 20 July 2022, Vishal Stonewall and Mohd Shakib Ragrez, two journalists from the Chalchitra Abhiyaan film and media collective, were attacked by an unknown assailant who snatched their camera and microphone in Kishanpur Biral village in Baghpat district in Uttar Pradesh.
The journalists were reporting on the impact of the revised GST rates on food items. The journalists were told that they could not report on government policies and were threatened with more violence.
Chalchitra Abhiyaan focuses on news and documentaries from five districts of West Uttar Pradesh-Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Meerut, Saharanpur. Its editorial team comprises residents of these areas who have been trained to highlight issues that concern marginalised communities. Vishal, a former brick kiln worker and Shakib, a Muzzaffarnagar riot survivor, and other members of Chalchitra Abhiyaan have previously been detained by the police for reporting on the Hathras protest in Shamli and protests by Dalit community in Saharanpur.
This is not the first time journalists in Uttar Pradesh have been subjected to violence and intimidation for doing their jobs. While freedom of press is deteriorating it is especially fragile in Uttar Pradesh.
This repeated pattern of intimidation and physical assaults on journalists in Uttar Pradesh by unknown assailants who prevent journalists from reporting on the government must be halted.
DIGIPUB, an association of independent digital-first media organisations, urges the state of Uttar Pradesh to sensitise the authorities about the vital role of the free press in a democratic society and to deal with people who attack reporters with the full force of the law. These attacks and the lack of strict action by officials does not bode well for all Indians.
DIGIPUB urges the Uttar Pradesh police to conduct an investigation on the attacks on mediapersons and requests the state government to ensure that the constitutional right to free speech and expression is protected, so that journalists may do their jobs without the threat of violence.