Around 3,500 Jurists, Artists Slam FIR Against ‘The Wire’ Editor
In a joint statement, they called it an attack on the freedom of the media.
Around 3,500 jurists, academics, actors, artistes, writers as well as people from other walks of life on Tuesday, 14 April, slammed the Uttar Pradesh government and the police for filing an FIR against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of The Wire, and demanded that all criminal proceedings against him be dropped.
In a joint statement, they called it an attack on the freedom of the media. They also urged the Centre and all state governments not to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a cover to trample upon the media’s freedom.
A medical emergency should not serve as the pretext for the imposition of a de facto political emergency, the statement said.
The signatories include former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur, former Madras High Court judge K Chandru, former Patna High Court judge Anjana Prakash, two ex-Chiefs of Naval Staff, Admiral Ramdas and Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha.
In their statement, they expressed shock at the action of the Uttar Pradesh government under Yogi Adityanath and police in filing criminal charges against The Wire and one of its founding editors, for an “entirely factual story on the COVID-19 and religious events”.
The Uttar Pradesh police this month booked Varadarajan over comments on Twitter claiming that the day Tablighi Jamaat held its event in Delhi, Chief Minister Adityanath had insisted that a Ram Navami fair will take place as usual.
The FIR also mentioned his remark questioning Adityanath’s participation in a religious ceremony at the Ramjanmabhoomi site in Ayodhya during the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The statement said that the target of this action is a factual story on the Tablighi Jamaat and its exposure to COVID-19.
“Towards the end, the impugned article merely pointed out that ‘Indian believers’ have generally been late to adopt precautions and avoid congregation, recalling UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s plans, as late as 18 March, to proceed with a religious fair at Ayodhya and his flouting of the national lockdown and social distancing norms by taking part in a religious ceremony along with others on 25 March”, the statement said.
Two FIRs were filed under various sections of the law on 1 April, one on a complaint by a resident of Ayodhya and the other on the basis of a complaint by the SHO of the Kotwali Nagar police station, Faizabad, it noted.
A plain reading of the sections invoked in the FIRs makes it clear they cannot possibly apply to the article in question, the statement said.
“The FIRs were followed up with a gross display of intimidation on 10 April, when policemen arrived in a black SUV with no number plates at Varadarajan’s residence in Delhi to issue a legal notice ordering him to appear in Ayodhya on 14 April at 10 am”, it said.
That the Uttar Pradesh government sent policemen driving across 700 kilometres during the national lockdown to issue this summons when the postal system is still operational speaks volumes for its priorities, the statement said.
“The UP police’s action is just the latest in a series of attempts by the ruling establishment, or persons close to them, to entangle The Wire and its editors in legal cases in an effort to shut them down”, it said.
The police action against The Wire also comes against the backdrop of the “demonization of Muslims” in a section of the media as being responsible for the spread of the novel coronavirus in India, the statement said.
Several former bureaucrats, including former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon, former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, former adviser to the Governor of Punjab & former ambassador to Romania Julio Ribeiro and former CEC MS Gill, among others, are also signatories to the statement.
Some others include authors Vikram Seth, Nayantara Sahgal, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, K. Satchidanandan and Kiran Desai.
The statement has also been endorsed by actors and artistes such as Amol Palekar, Naseeruddin Shah, Nandita Das, Farhan Akhtar, and Mallika Sarabhai. Zoya Akhtar, Kiran Rao and Anand Patwardhan are among the filmmakers, and Dayanita Singh among the photographers.
Several senior journalists and over a thousand professors from universities across the globe are among academic signatories.
The FIR against Varadarajan had referred to a tweet by him which said, “On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Adityanath insisted a large Ram Navami fair planned for Ayodhya from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual and that Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus”.
Later, the journalist tweeted, “I should clarify that it was Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself”.
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