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Misuse of law to muzzle press freedom must stop

Misuse of law to muzzle press freedom must stop

The Foundation for Media Professionals (FMP) condemns the rampant misuse of laws and legal processes aimed at curbing the freedom of the press. There have been nearly 60 such instances since the nationwide lockdown in March 2020.

During this pandemic and the nationwide lockdown, the police forces have misused their powers to target journalists, including the manner in which inquiries have been conducted. According to the Rights and Risk Analysis Group, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation, as many as 55 journalists faced legal and/or physical threats between 25 March and 31 May 2020. The group released a report that says journalists faced arrest, FIRs were filed against them, summons or show cause notices were issued, physical assaults and destruction of properties were carried out and threats issued for reporting on COVID-19 or “exercising freedom of opinion and expression during the national lockdown”. A large number of the journalists mentioned in this report are from smaller towns and work for the vernacular media.
Since the publication of this report, there have been three more reported cases targeting journalists.

In one, senior journalist Vinod Dua was pulled up by the Delhi Police, which had lodged an FIR at the instance of a politician alleging that a particular critical comment made by Dua was seditious in nature.  The Delhi High Court stayed the investigation and operation of the notices sent to Dua. Yet, the very same day, the Himachal Pradesh Police issued a summons to Dua on a similar FIR asking him to travel to HP, without regard to his age and vulnerability to COVID-19. This time, the Supreme Court gave Dua protection from arrest for a month.
In the second instance, columnist Aakar Patel was booked for his comments on social media. The Bangalore Police followed its FIR against him by serving a notice to social media platform Twitter, which then withheld his account for a while from being viewed in India.

In the latest instance, an FIR has been lodged making serious accusations against Supriya Sharma, executive editor of the news portal Scroll.in, for a ground report on the effects of the lockdown on vulnerable sections. The FIR also lists Naresh Fernandes, editor-in-chief of Scroll.in, as an accused. Besides invoking the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Uttar Pradesh Police has booked them for a non-cognizable offence of defamation under section 501 of the IPC, which legally can be pursued only through a private complaint before a magistrate. It has also invoked Section 269 of the IPC for a negligent act in spreading infectious disease which is a cognizable offence.

The Foundation for Media Professionals urges all governments to exercise caution in this growing trend of misusing the legal process to target journalists whose comments or reportage are politically inconvenient. These cases have been filed while a lot of journalists across the country are carrying on their work risking their personal health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has even been recognised by the prime minister of India who has repeatedly listed journalists among essential service providers in his public addresses about the pandemic.

 

   Raksha

  

 Nitin

 Ushinor

(Raksha Kumar)

Convenor, FMP

(Nitin Sethi)

Vice President, FMP

(Ushinor Majumdar)

Treasurer, FMP