Free speech “eroding”: report details 137 incidents of free speech violations in the past 4 months

A report by the Free Speech Collective has warned about losing “last remaining” space for free speech as it notes that a huge number of free speech violations have taken place between January - April 2024.

A latest report by the Free Speech Collective has detailed a staggering 134 cases of violation of free speech since January 2024. In the past four months, in the run up to the 18th Lok Sabha elections, the report notes how journalists, academics, YouTubers, students, and other citizens have been subject to arrests, attacks, threats, harassment, and censorship. 

The Free Speech Collective is a team of journalists, activists and lawyers that track free speech violations in the country based in India. 

The report further highlights the case of journalists Vanessa Dougnac and Avani Dias who were forced to leave the country under the orders of the central government. Avani Dias was the South Asia bureau chief of Australian Broadcasting Corporation was forced to leave the country on April 22 after she was informed that her work as a journalist had “crossed a line.” Similarly, the report highlights how French journalist Vanessa Dougnac also had to leave the country after her journalism permit was revoked in September 2023 without any reason or justification being given. A British academic of Kashmiri origin named Nitasha Kaul was also prevented from entering India and deported from Bangalore airport after she was invited to speak at a conference by the Karnataka government. 

Furthermore, the report highlights how five journalists have been arrested in the country since January 2024., and two continue to be in custody. Three of them, Dhanabir Maibam of Manipur, Santu Pan who was working in Sandeshkhali, West Bengal and Ashutosh Negi in Uttarakhand, have been granted bail. Whereas, two other journalists, including Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan, who was re-arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) two days after being granted bail and Punjabi journalist Rajinder Singh Taggar who was arrested for charges related to extortion. 

As per the report, there were around 34 journalists who were attacked. The report highlights the case of Nikhil Wagle whose car was attacked grievously when he was on route to speak at an event about free speech. Similarly, Sabrang India had covered how journalists, Satender Chauhan and Niel Bhalinder Singh were attacked and injured while covering farmers protests in February 2024. As per the report, ten journalists were attacked by a violent mob and had their bikes burnt in Uttarakhand, which tops the list of places which have seen such attacks. 

Similarly, the collective highlights the massive internet shutdowns witnessed in the country, with Haryana, Manipur and Punjab coming in on the top three states. 

Similarly, the report notes that over 177 accounts on social media have been banned after they were ordered by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in February on behalf of the Ministry of Home Affairs under section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Among these were YouTube based media platforms Bolta Hindustan, National Dastak, and Media Swaraj. Similarly, the report highlights how Caravan Magazine been ordered by the by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) to take down their article titled, ‘Screams from the Army Post: The Indian Army’s torture and murder of civilians in a restive Jammu’ within 24 hours. The magazine has currently challenged the order in court. Similarly, in early January, the government had ordered for the closure of the Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab which track hate speech by leaders and hate incidents from around the country. Each of these moves were criticised by media personnel and observers for their attack on a free and fair press. The report warns that these are dangerous signs of “print and electronic media teetering between partisan advocacy and self-censorship,” and states, “The last remaining space for informing the electorate may soon be completely eroded.”


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