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Govt-Ordered Takedown of The Caravan's Article Criticised by PCI, Rights Groups

The now-deleted report detailed alleged human rights abuses by Indian Army in J&K.

Published
India
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The Press Club of India has expressed deep concern over the government-ordered takedown of an article published by Delhi-based news magazine The Caravan.

The latest: "The actions of the MIB (Ministry of Information and Broadcasting) gravely infringes Freedom of Press, which has seen a serious slide in the past few years," the Press Club of India said in a statement on Wednesday, 14 February.

  • "The Caravan reported on an important story and the people of the country have a right to know," the statement read.

  • "We request the MIB to withdraw its order directing the magazine to pull down the story," it added.

In a nutshell: The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on Tuesday, 13 February, ordered The Caravan to take down within 24 hours:

  • An article that was published by the magazine.

  • A YouTube video that was based on the article.

  • Over nine URLs promoting the article on social media platforms.

Why it matters: The news report that triggered the government takedown order details allegations of abuse, torture, and murder of civilians by the Indian Army in Jammu's Poonch district.

This development comes days after prominent journalist Nikhil Wagle was allegedly attacked in Pune by BJP workers, sparking fresh concerns of online censorship and deteriorating press freedom in India.

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The now-deleted report detailed alleged human rights abuses by Indian Army in J&K.

The Caravan's article has been pulled down and replaced with a note stating why.

(Screenshot: caravanmagazine.in)

Some legal context: The order to take down The Caravan's article was issued under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, as well as the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

  • Under Section 69A of IT Act, the central government has the "power to issue directions for blocking for public access of any information through any computer resource."

  • Meanwhile, Rule 16 of the IT Rules, 2021, empowers MIB to block online content in case of emergencies.

  • Additionally, government requests or orders to take down content are strictly confidential, as per the Blocking Rules, 2009.

  • This means that the government can order the content to be taken down without saying exactly why.

Behind closed doors: According to a report by Hindustan Times, MIB first issued a notice to the news magazine on Friday, 9 February.

  • On Monday, 12 February, an unidentified member of the magazine reportedly appeared before an inter-departmental committee (IDC).

  • After this, the blocking order requiring the article to be taken down was issued.

Of note: The Caravan has said that it will be challenging the takedown order issued by the government.

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Zoom in: On 1 February, an article titled 'Screams from the Army Post: The Indian Army's torture and murder of civilians in a restive Jammu' was published on The Caravan's website.

  • A print version of the news report by independent journalist Jatinder Kaur Tur was also published in the magazine's February issue: 'The Military Under Modi'.

  • As per the report, the alleged torture of 25 J&K locals (three of whom died) by the Indian Army was a "coordinated operation" undertaken after a militant attack claimed the lives of four jawans in December last year.

  • The report states that the allegedly tortured men also worked as informers for the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

"Even if human rights were not a major concern for the Indian State, the fact that the army is eliminating assets of the government’s own agencies in Jammu and Kashmir should raise alarm bells in Delhi."
Jatinder Kaur Tur, The Caravan

What they're saying: "This is a fundamental challenge to our right to report the truth, the citizens right to know the truth. It cannot and will not go uncontested," The Caravan editor Hartosh Singh Bal posted on X.

"The Indian govt must carry out an independent probe into the allegations of human rights violations reported by @thecaravanindia. Instead, it has censored the magazine by ordering to remove a story which reported alleged torture & killing of civilians in Jammu by the Indian army," rights organisation Amnesty India said in a post on X.

"We are deeply perturbed by the arbitrary & opaque actions being taken that disproportionately impact one’s right to free speech & right to practice one’s profession," digital rights advocacy group Internet Freedom Foundation wrote.

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