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‘Alarmed’ by FIRs Against Journalists, WAN-IFRA Writes To PM Modi

The letter calls on PM Modi to denounce targeting of journalists and independent news organisations.

Published
India
3 min read
FIRs have been registered against several journalists in recent days including Mandeep Punia, Rajdeep Sardesai, and Siddharth Varadarajan. Image used for representation.
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The World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF), representing 60 national membership associations, 18,000 titles and 3,000 media organisations in over 120 countries, have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing concern over recent legal proceedings against journalists.

The letter signed by Presidents of WAN-IFRA and WEF, Fernando De Yarza Lopez-Madrazo and Warren Fernandez, refers to the legal proceedings, in question, as “Actions that threaten to undermine press freedom in the country.” It goes on to say:

“We are particularly alarmed by the increasing use of First Information Reports (FIRs), the application of section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (a colonial-era ‘sedition law’), and the recourse to broader criminal charges to punish journalists simply for doing their jobs.”

It points out that even the Supreme Court of India had to step in on 9 February to provide interim protection from arrest to journalists Zafar Agha, Vinod Jose, Ananth Nath, Paresh Nath, Mrinal Pande, and Rajdeep Sardesai, after FIRs were filed against them in multiple states.

“The journalists were charged with sedition on 28 January, with the accompanying FIR stating that they had, ‘shared misinformed news and instigated violence’ via Twitter messages sent as part of their coverage of demonstrations by farmers opposed to agricultural reforms, which took place on 26 January.”

Further, the international organisations express concern over estimates of at least 50 journalists at local, regional and national level having been subjected to ‘legal jeopardy’ since 2020. They point out that the journalists have had to endure the same ‘as a result of their reporting, with an even higher number facing criminal action under other pretexts’.

“We are deeply concerned that such persistent recourse to legal action suggests a systematic and barely disguised attempt to criminalise professional journalism, a claim evidenced by the growing pattern of legal cases, personal threats and intimidation against independent news media organisations, individual editors, journalists, and freelancers.

Furthermore, we interpret the consistency of these actions as severely contributing to the undermining of critical, independent reporting in a way that risks unleashing a chilling effect across the profession,” the letter stated.

WAN-IFRA and WEF go on to urge PM Modi, in the letter, “To reiterate the fundamental right of journalists to report freely, fairly, and critically, and to ensure local government and law enforcement professionals acknowledge the essential role of a free press in contributing to democratic discourse.”

Further, the letter calls on the PM to denounce targeting of journalists and independent news organisations. WAN-IFRA and WEF also ask PM Modi to condemn those who target journalists as ‘having no place in a society that values freedom of expression’.

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Background

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, 9 February, stayed the arrest of journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod K Jose, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Anant Nath, and Paresh Nath over the FIRs registered against them for their tweets about the farmers’ tractor rally on 26 January, Republic Day, LiveLaw reported.

They had earlier approached the Supreme Court over the FIRs against them pertaining to the reportage on the death of a farmer in Delhi during the tractor rally.

The FIRs against the journalists have been filed in multiple states, including Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. They were booked for sedition by the Noida Police on Thursday, 28 January, with the FIR stating that they shared misinformed news and 'instigated violence' on 26 January.

Further, FIRs have been registered against several journalists in recent days including Mandeep Punia, Rajdeep Sardesai, and Siddharth Varadarajan.

Meanwhile, journalist Siddique Kappan was arrested in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura in October 2020 when they were on their way to Hathras to report about the alleged gang rape and murder of the 19-year-old Dalit girl. He was booked under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and charges of sedition. Kappan, on 4 February, moved an urgent plea seeking interim bail so that he could visit his seriously ailing mother. The matter is yet to be heard.

(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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