This post in an extract from a report by the Free Speech Collective on arrests and detention of journalists in India. It analyses cases of arrests, detentions, summons, interrogation and show-cause notices against journalists in a period of ten years from 2010-2020.Read the full report here.
STORY-TELLERS BEHIND BARS
A sharp rise in criminal cases lodged against journalists in India for their work, with a majority of cases in BJP-ruled states, has contributed to the deterioration in the climate for free speech in India. Along with the already prevailing impunity for crimes against journalists, these instances clamp down on the flow of information and have a chilling effect on the freedom of the media in India.
In the last decade, 154 journalists in India were arrested, detained, interrogated or served show cause notices for their professional work. Sixty-seven of these were recorded in 2020 alone. Between 2010-20, nine foreign journalists faced deportation, interrogation or were denied entry into India.
A majority of the Indian journalists worked for non-English print publications and television channels, were freelancers or published on various online social media platforms.
Seventy-three of the 154 cases documented in this study have been reported from BJP-ruled states. Another 30 cases were reported from states ruled by BJP and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Of the cases in BJP-ruled states, Uttar Pradesh led the pack with 29 cases. Other instances are from states under President’s Rule or Governor’s rule, directly under the control of the Union government.
For the first four years of the decade under this study, the Congress-I led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power at the Centre while the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has been in power since May 2014. There were 19 cases under the UPA watch, i.e. between 2010-May 2014. From 2017, the number of cases against journalists has been in double figures.
Journalists have been arrested and face court cases on ‘terror’ and ‘conspiracy’ charges under sections in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA), Official Secrets Act (OSA), sedition, spreading communal disharmony, trespass, cheating, criminal conspiracy in the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, obscenity under the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and prohibitory orders under Sec 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.
Two journalists –Aasif Sultan of the Kashmir Narrator and Siddique Kappan of Azhimukham – are still in custody on charges under the UAPA while a third, Prashant Rahi, has been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. On June 25, 2019, Ghulam Jeelani Qadri, journalist and publisher of the Urdu-language newspaper Daily Afaaq from Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir, was arrested on charges under the now lapsed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1985!
Over the ten-year period, 56 journalists were arrested and spent varying amounts of time behind bars before being released on bail. This year, journalist Prashant Kanojia spent 80 days in jail for merely posting a tweet, securing bail only after 61 days. At least 13 journalists obtained anticipatory bail while an equal number were detained. At least 45 others have had FIRs lodged against them.
Over the decade, journalists and the stories that evoked such drastic response included:
- the editors of ‘Dastak’ magazine Seema Azad and Vishwa Vijay (arrested and awarded life imprisonment on charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy under the UAPA for writing about the opposition to the Mayawati government’s forcible land acquisition for the Ganga Expressway project;
- journalist K K Shahina charged under the UAPA for an article on the police investigation against Abdul Nasar Madani;
- Quint journalist Poonam Agarwal charged under the Official Secrets Act for a sting report on the sahayak system and abetment to suicide, following the death of Roy Mathew, one of the sahayaks interviewed;
- Deccan Herald journalist, Muthi-ur-Rehman Siddiqui arrested on charges of being the mastermind in an alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba plot to kill other journalists for their ‘right-wing leanings’;
- television journalist Jaikhlong Brahma, arrested on charges of “providing information to extremists;
- freelance journalist, Neha Dixit who wrote an exposé on trafficking of young girls titled Operation #BabyLift;
- journalists Kamal Shukla and Prabhat Singh faced multiple cases, including sedition charges against Shukla;
- journalists Abhilash Padacherry, Ananthu Rajagopal, arrested on charges of obstructing public officials when they went to cover the Vadayampadi ‘caste wall’ in Kerala;
- journalist Auqib Javeed questioned in the case of Asiya Andrabi, chief of Kashmiri women’s separatist groups Dukhtaran-e-Millat (DeM) who was arrested by the NIA under charges of sedition and UAPA;
- journalists Masrat Zahra and Gowhar Geelani booked by the Cyber police, Srinagar, for allegedly ‘indulging in unlawful activities’ through his posts and writings on social media;
- journalist Ashwani Saini who had five FIRs lodged against him for his video report on the failure of the administration during the lockdown and other pandemic-related stories
(Note: Please download the report for the complete list):
Foreign journalists have found the going tough, denied visas and restricted from travelling to ‘conflict’ areas. In 2011, noted radio broadcaster David Barsamian was deported from Delhi airport. In 2017, ABC Four Corners, an Australian news team led by Stephen Long, was forced to leave Gujarat while reporting on the Adani Group’s Mundra port. In December 2017, Paul Comiti, a French freelance journalist, was arrested for filming a documentary without permission and violating visa regulations, Jammu and Kashmir police said. Other cases in 2018 were of Alban Alvarez, correspondent for French news channel FRANCE24 in India, and Derek Mac Donald, a British national; Arthur Roland Rene and Jules Damien, Mark Scialla while Cathal McNaughton, chief photographer at the Reuters news agency’s Delhi office was denied entry.
Cases against Republic television channel owner Arnab Goswami and Zee News television channel editor Sudhir Chaudhary related to their allegedly inflammatory news coverage. Goswami was arrested on an abetment to suicide charge relating to his media business and released on bail, following a Supreme Court order. The case provided stark evidence of preferential treatment regarding the grant of bail accorded to mediapersons perceived to be close to the ruling political party, in stark contrast to the harassment and prolonged incarceration of journalists who are seen as critical voices against the ruling establishment.
Apart from the arrests, a number of journalists were summoned for interrogation or served with show cause notices, often a precursor to punitive action by the administration. For journalists reporting from conflict areas like Jammu and Kashmir, constant surveillance and summons from the police or administration over news reports is routine, with the unspoken threat of a case being filed if journalists continue to challenge the invisible boundaries drawn for them.
Only 14 journalists managed to fight court cases and secure their acquittals or had their cases quashed or disposed of. Their legal battles, long and often lonely and with scant support, came with a price. They have lost jobs and faced intense trauma and isolation, run up huge debts, caught up in a quagmire of weekly attendance in police stations and successive court dates till cases are ultimately resolved.
In the wake of massive economic upheaval, the collapse of public health systems, the rise in unemployment, privatization of public resources and policies that result in displacement and adversely impact the environment, the penalizing of journalists seeking to hold governments accountable, along with the killing and attacks on journalists, will have a deleterious effect on media freedom in India. It is vital to protect the freedom to access and disseminate information, shape public opinion and challenge dominant narratives.
Read the full report here.