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Elections 2023: How MP, Rajasthan, & Other Poll-Bound States Fare on Free Speech

There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

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“Overall, there has been a steady deterioration of freedom of expression in India," noted a recent report by Free Speech Collective that recorded at least 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Mizoram – in the last five years.

The report, titled ‘Free Speech in The States – Between Electoral Rhetoric and Ground Reality,’ examined violations of press freedom and free speech against journalists and RTI (Right to Information) activists on the basis of the following parameters:

  • killing of journalists

  • arrests, detention, deportation of journalists

  • arrest of other citizens including artists, academics, stand-up comedians, and filmmakers

  • attacks on journalists

  • threats

  • censorship

  • internet shutdowns

  • cases of defamation, sedition and contempt of court, clubbed under the term ‘lawfare’ to indicate overuse and misuse of laws to silence dissent  

The report concluded that:

"There is overwhelming evidence of journalists killed, attacked, arrested, charged for their investigative work, intimidated or denied access to the gathering of news and information in the public interest or bluntly censored and silenced.”

Ahead of the counting day on 3 December, The Quint takes a closer look at the findings of the report in each of the five poll-bound states. Read on. 

Elections 2023: How MP, Rajasthan, & Other Poll-Bound States Fare on Free Speech

  1. 1. Madhya Pradesh

    In the last five years, two journalists – Chakresh Jain in 2019 and Sunil Tiwari in 2020 – have been killed in Madhya Pradesh. In addition, the report pointed out, there have been at least 14 cases of ‘lawfare’ against journalists and citizens in the central state.

    There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

    Free speech violations in Madhya Pradesh in the last five years.

    (Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

    Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on 7 September 2023 announced a slew of measures for the welfare of journalists in Madhya Pradesh, including doubling the monthly pension given to senior journalists, health insurance, a journalists’ colony in Bhopal, and interest-free housing loans, among other sops.  

    A week later, almost ironically, journalist Jaalam Singh, working with Guna-based online news publication Dainik Khulasa was arrested. Singh reportedly was slapped with 11 First Information Reports (FIRs) after his story was published on 7 September.

    The story was on a viral video purportedly showing Mahendra Singh Sisodia, the state minister of panchayat and rural development, with a woman. Singh’s report did not mention Sisodia by name. It merely said a video had gone viral, and an unnamed politician might not be able to contest elections. Singh is still in jail.

    Madhya Pradesh has also become “the laboratory of sorts for academic censorship with close monitoring of prescribed books” and trained guns on OTT platforms, the report found.

    On 1 January 2021, stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui was arrested on charges of allegedly insulting Hindu gods and for violating COVID-19 protocol at a New Year event in a cafe in Indore.

    Comedian Vir Das had also come in the crosshairs of MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra for his ‘I Come from Two Indias’ show.

    “Between November 2020 and March 2021, six FIRs were registered against directors and producers of Netflix (for allegedly hurting religious sentiments in the web series A Suitable Boy) and five FIRs registered in different cities against Amazon Prime (for the web series Tandav).” 
    'Free Speech in The States' report
    Expand
  2. 2. Chhattisgarh 

    According to the report, 11 journalists were arrested in Chhattisgarh between 2018 and 2023, and seven have cases lodged against them. At least 12 journalists faced intimidation and threats of cases being registered against them.  

    There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

    Free speech violations in Chhattisgarh in the last five years.

    (Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

    Even though the Congress had, in its 2018 poll manifesto, promised legal protection to journalists if it comes to power in Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel rolled out the Chhattisgarh Media Personnel Security Bill on 22 March 2023.

    In 2021, during the pandemic, the Chhattisgarh government had also provided financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh to the families of those mediapersons who died due to COVID-19.

    However, the report points out that several journalists bore the brunt of ‘lawfare’ by being charged under multiple sections of the law “for reporting on sand mining and other corruption at local levels.” In Surguja division alone, which comprises six districts, 22 journalists have faced the brunt for their reporting, most of whom have been arrested or have had cases slapped against them. 

    “Take the case of Sunil Namdev, who runs the YouTube channel News Today. Reporting on COVID-19 violations by the ruling party members; corruption in construction; the arrest of senior IAS officers who colluded with the Congress government in the coal mafia scam, promptly landed him in jail, where he still is lodged since May 2023,” the report added.  

    Expand
  3. 3. Mizoram

    According to the report, one journalist was attacked, another was threatened, and two others faced censorship.

    The north-eastern state is ruled by the Mizo National Front (MNF), which is an ally of the BJP and member of the NEDA (Northeast Democratic Alliance). Since the ethnic conflict broke out in neighbouring Manipur, at least 12,000 Kuki people have taken refuge in Mizoram. Last month, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga declared that the MNF will not ally with the BJP in the upcoming polls due to anti-Christian violence in BJP-ruled Manipur.

    Mizoram, with its predominantly Christian and tribal population, also shares international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar and sees a constant influx of refugees. In March 2021, a major stream of refugees from Myanmar arrived in Mizoram following the military coup and ouster of the elected government under Aung San Suu Kyi. 

    There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

    Free speech violations in Mizoram in the last five years.

    (Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

    The reports stated, “Most media outlets (in Mizoram) are dependent on the government for advertisement revenue, most of which is concentrated in the capital Aizawl, the seat of political power. State patronage via the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DI&PR) is an affliction in Mizoram, like many other small states without an independent media ecosystem. In such a situation, self-censorship is likely to be prevalent.” 

    In March 2022, Zoramthanga had announced a pension scheme for journalists in Mizoram. 

    Expand
  4. 4. Rajasthan

    According to the report, two RTI activists – Jagdish Goliya in 2019 and Rai Singh Gurjar in 2021 – were killed in Rajasthan while six others were attacked. In addition, there were a staggering 60 instances of internet shutdown in the state.

    In Rajasthan, where the BJP and the Congress take turns to the throne every five years, both the ruling governments have attacked films for inappropriate portrayal of community heroes. For instance, in 2017, when the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government was in power, Rajasthan witnessed aggressive protests over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, and Shahid Kapoor.

    There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

    Free speech violations in Rajasthan in the last five years.

    (Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

    In December 2019, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot urged the Censor Board to take note of the wrong portrayal of Maharaja Surajmal in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s film Panipat, saying it had offended the Jat community. The movie featured Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, and Sanjay Dutt. 

    The state, which is riddled with severe unemployment, has witnessed multiple question paper leaks for state government recruitment exams.

    “Internet shutdowns have been a preferred tool of the Gehlot government to prevent cheating during examinations, among other reasons,” the report stated. 

    Expand
  5. 5. Telangana

    According to the report, at least 40 journalists were detained in Telangana between 2018 and 2023, while at least four journalists were arrested and three were attacked. 

    In addition, journalist Mamidi Karunakar Reddy and RTI activist Nalla Ramakrishnaiah were killed in Telangana in 2023. 

    There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

    Free speech violations in Telangana in the last five years.

    (Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

    Since its inception in 2014, Telangana has been ruled by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which is now known as Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS). The party is led by K Chandrashekar Rao (popularly known as KCR), who has been the chief minister of the state since 2014.

    According to the report, “The ruling BRS has displayed an intolerance to free speech and clamped down on journalists and others expressing opinions on social media and YouTubers. Authorities have stood by while right-wing extremists and vigilantes have assaulted journalists and anyone who speaks out. Trolls and online abusers threaten and intimidate journalists – especially women – with impunity.” 

    Seventy-year-old RTI activist Nalla Ramakrishnaiah was allegedly killed in Telangana’s Jangaon district in June this year. Three days after he had been missing, his body was reportedly found dumped in a water-filled quarry. Ramakrishnaiah had complained about irregularities by the accused, G Anjaiah, in a land issue, NDTV reported. 

    In another incident that took place in January 2022, 40 journalists were detained for 12 hours for their allegedly unfavourable coverage of the then TRS government, including KCR. 

    This election season, the BRS has not mentioned any provisions for protection of journalists or ensuring press freedom.

    In 2022, a total of 194 journalists, including seven women journalists, were targeted across India, according to a report released by Delhi-based think-tank Rights and Risks Analysis Group in June this year. Of these, the maximum number of incidents were reported from Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Telangana.

    Meanwhile, India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index 2023 (maintained by Reporters Without Borders) slipped to 161 of 180 countries.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Madhya Pradesh

In the last five years, two journalists – Chakresh Jain in 2019 and Sunil Tiwari in 2020 – have been killed in Madhya Pradesh. In addition, the report pointed out, there have been at least 14 cases of ‘lawfare’ against journalists and citizens in the central state.

There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

Free speech violations in Madhya Pradesh in the last five years.

(Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on 7 September 2023 announced a slew of measures for the welfare of journalists in Madhya Pradesh, including doubling the monthly pension given to senior journalists, health insurance, a journalists’ colony in Bhopal, and interest-free housing loans, among other sops.  

A week later, almost ironically, journalist Jaalam Singh, working with Guna-based online news publication Dainik Khulasa was arrested. Singh reportedly was slapped with 11 First Information Reports (FIRs) after his story was published on 7 September.

The story was on a viral video purportedly showing Mahendra Singh Sisodia, the state minister of panchayat and rural development, with a woman. Singh’s report did not mention Sisodia by name. It merely said a video had gone viral, and an unnamed politician might not be able to contest elections. Singh is still in jail.

Madhya Pradesh has also become “the laboratory of sorts for academic censorship with close monitoring of prescribed books” and trained guns on OTT platforms, the report found.

On 1 January 2021, stand-up comedian Munawar Faruqui was arrested on charges of allegedly insulting Hindu gods and for violating COVID-19 protocol at a New Year event in a cafe in Indore.

Comedian Vir Das had also come in the crosshairs of MP Home Minister Narottam Mishra for his ‘I Come from Two Indias’ show.

“Between November 2020 and March 2021, six FIRs were registered against directors and producers of Netflix (for allegedly hurting religious sentiments in the web series A Suitable Boy) and five FIRs registered in different cities against Amazon Prime (for the web series Tandav).” 
'Free Speech in The States' report
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Chhattisgarh 

According to the report, 11 journalists were arrested in Chhattisgarh between 2018 and 2023, and seven have cases lodged against them. At least 12 journalists faced intimidation and threats of cases being registered against them.  

There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

Free speech violations in Chhattisgarh in the last five years.

(Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

Even though the Congress had, in its 2018 poll manifesto, promised legal protection to journalists if it comes to power in Chhattisgarh, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel rolled out the Chhattisgarh Media Personnel Security Bill on 22 March 2023.

In 2021, during the pandemic, the Chhattisgarh government had also provided financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh to the families of those mediapersons who died due to COVID-19.

However, the report points out that several journalists bore the brunt of ‘lawfare’ by being charged under multiple sections of the law “for reporting on sand mining and other corruption at local levels.” In Surguja division alone, which comprises six districts, 22 journalists have faced the brunt for their reporting, most of whom have been arrested or have had cases slapped against them. 

“Take the case of Sunil Namdev, who runs the YouTube channel News Today. Reporting on COVID-19 violations by the ruling party members; corruption in construction; the arrest of senior IAS officers who colluded with the Congress government in the coal mafia scam, promptly landed him in jail, where he still is lodged since May 2023,” the report added.  

0

Mizoram

According to the report, one journalist was attacked, another was threatened, and two others faced censorship.

The north-eastern state is ruled by the Mizo National Front (MNF), which is an ally of the BJP and member of the NEDA (Northeast Democratic Alliance). Since the ethnic conflict broke out in neighbouring Manipur, at least 12,000 Kuki people have taken refuge in Mizoram. Last month, Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga declared that the MNF will not ally with the BJP in the upcoming polls due to anti-Christian violence in BJP-ruled Manipur.

Mizoram, with its predominantly Christian and tribal population, also shares international borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar and sees a constant influx of refugees. In March 2021, a major stream of refugees from Myanmar arrived in Mizoram following the military coup and ouster of the elected government under Aung San Suu Kyi. 

There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

Free speech violations in Mizoram in the last five years.

(Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

The reports stated, “Most media outlets (in Mizoram) are dependent on the government for advertisement revenue, most of which is concentrated in the capital Aizawl, the seat of political power. State patronage via the Directorate of Information and Public Relations (DI&PR) is an affliction in Mizoram, like many other small states without an independent media ecosystem. In such a situation, self-censorship is likely to be prevalent.” 

In March 2022, Zoramthanga had announced a pension scheme for journalists in Mizoram. 

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Rajasthan

According to the report, two RTI activists – Jagdish Goliya in 2019 and Rai Singh Gurjar in 2021 – were killed in Rajasthan while six others were attacked. In addition, there were a staggering 60 instances of internet shutdown in the state.

In Rajasthan, where the BJP and the Congress take turns to the throne every five years, both the ruling governments have attacked films for inappropriate portrayal of community heroes. For instance, in 2017, when the Vasundhara Raje-led BJP government was in power, Rajasthan witnessed aggressive protests over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, and Shahid Kapoor.

There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

Free speech violations in Rajasthan in the last five years.

(Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

In December 2019, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot urged the Censor Board to take note of the wrong portrayal of Maharaja Surajmal in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s film Panipat, saying it had offended the Jat community. The movie featured Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, and Sanjay Dutt. 

The state, which is riddled with severe unemployment, has witnessed multiple question paper leaks for state government recruitment exams.

“Internet shutdowns have been a preferred tool of the Gehlot government to prevent cheating during examinations, among other reasons,” the report stated. 

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Telangana

According to the report, at least 40 journalists were detained in Telangana between 2018 and 2023, while at least four journalists were arrested and three were attacked. 

In addition, journalist Mamidi Karunakar Reddy and RTI activist Nalla Ramakrishnaiah were killed in Telangana in 2023. 

There have been over 190 instances of violation of free speech in the five poll-bound states in the last 5 years.

Free speech violations in Telangana in the last five years.

(Source: 'Free Speech in The States' report by Free Speech Collective)

Since its inception in 2014, Telangana has been ruled by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which is now known as Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS). The party is led by K Chandrashekar Rao (popularly known as KCR), who has been the chief minister of the state since 2014.

According to the report, “The ruling BRS has displayed an intolerance to free speech and clamped down on journalists and others expressing opinions on social media and YouTubers. Authorities have stood by while right-wing extremists and vigilantes have assaulted journalists and anyone who speaks out. Trolls and online abusers threaten and intimidate journalists – especially women – with impunity.” 

Seventy-year-old RTI activist Nalla Ramakrishnaiah was allegedly killed in Telangana’s Jangaon district in June this year. Three days after he had been missing, his body was reportedly found dumped in a water-filled quarry. Ramakrishnaiah had complained about irregularities by the accused, G Anjaiah, in a land issue, NDTV reported. 

In another incident that took place in January 2022, 40 journalists were detained for 12 hours for their allegedly unfavourable coverage of the then TRS government, including KCR. 

This election season, the BRS has not mentioned any provisions for protection of journalists or ensuring press freedom.

In 2022, a total of 194 journalists, including seven women journalists, were targeted across India, according to a report released by Delhi-based think-tank Rights and Risks Analysis Group in June this year. Of these, the maximum number of incidents were reported from Jammu and Kashmir, followed by Telangana.

Meanwhile, India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index 2023 (maintained by Reporters Without Borders) slipped to 161 of 180 countries.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Telangana    Free Speech   Rajasthan 

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