Image courtesy: The Quint/Erum Gour
In the ongoing budget session of the Parliament, Lok Sabha member Shri Pradyut Bordoloi (INC) brought the issue of journalists being arrest under the charges of Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment (UAPA) Act. Bordoloi had asked the ministry of Information And Broadcasting to provide the Lok Sabha with the details and the number of journalists arrested under UAPA, Indian Penal Code (IPC) and other penal laws during the last five years and the current year. The member had also enquired about the details and the number of Information Technology surveys and raids carried out at News organisations by the Government during the last five years and the current year.
Responding to these queries, Shri Anurag Singh Thakur, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting and Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports, informed the Lok Sabha that the above-mentioned matters are state are state subjects, as ‘Police’ and ‘Public Order’ fall under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. Thus, the State Governments are responsible for prevention, detection and investigation of crimes and for prosecuting the criminals through their law enforcement agencies. Additionally, it also informed that even the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not maintain data separately for Journalists and media personnel.
The question can be read here:
In a country where authorities are increasingly targeting journalists and online critics for their critiques of government policies and practices, including by bringing charges against them under counterterrorism and other penal laws, this response reflects the authorities’ indifference to ensuring the safety of journalists in India.
The Indian authorities and state agencies have repeatedly violated the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. An increasing number of journalists are detained on trumped-up or politically motivated charges for critical reporting, and they are then imprisoned for years, with the goal of targeting journalists, spreading fear, and silencing independent media.
The targeting of journalists by the authorities, combined with a more extensive restriction on dissent, has enabled the Hindu nationalists to intimidate, persecute, and abuse journalists critical of the Indian government, both online and offline, with impunity.
Against the backdrop of increasing restrictions on media freedom, Indian authorities have arrested journalists on bogus terrorism and seditious charges, and have consistently aimed at critics and independent news organisations, even raiding their offices. Even though it has only been three months since the beginning of this year, there have already been numerous reports of journalists being arrested and charged with UAPA, as well as raids on media outlets. In the month of March itself, 2 such cases have been reported, which are as follows:
On March 20, 2023, Kashmiri journalist Irfan Mehraj was arrested by the National Investigation Agency from Srinagar in a case registered under the UAPA. In a 2020 case of terror funding allegedly through NGOs, Mehraj was the first accused arrested following an alleged comprehensive investigation. In a statement, the central agency said that Mehraj is a close associate of human rights activist Khurram Parvez, who was arrested in November 2021 under sections of the UAPA which deal with terror funding. On March 22, a Delhi Court had now remanded Mehraj to NIA custody for 10 days in a case registered under UAPA.
Mehraj and Parvez are both associated with the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a coalition of non-profit campaign and advocacy organisation based in Srinagar. Mehraj founded Wande Magazine and now works as a senior editor at TwoCircles.net. He has tirelessly contributed to leading news publications such as The Indian Express, Al Jazeera, Himal Southasian, DW, and TRT World, and has worked tirelessly to ensure that the truth about the atrocities in Kashmir reaches the world.
It is also worth noting that Parvez, who was arrested by the NIA in November 2021 under the draconian UAPA on charges of criminal conspiracy, waging war against the government, and terror funding, is still detained.
On March 13, Sanjay Rana, a YouTube reporter, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police for asking a question to an elected state functionary. On March 12, Rana had questioning the state minister for secondary education Gulab Devi at a function about unfulfilled promises. He asked “questions to a minister over her unfulfilled promises of development work during a function”. Devi had visited Budh Nagar Khandwa to inaugurate a dam. Rana was eventually granted bail but not before remaining in police custody for over 30 hours. The Union noted that not even a day had passed since the event when the Sambhal police arrested Rana based on a complaint by a leader associated with the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM), the BJP’s youth wing. An FIR under IPC Sections 323 (Punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) and 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), was filed against Rana.
In February, the income tax department had raided the Mumbai and Delhi office of the BBC News. The raids, which the income tax officials have described as “surveys,” follows the recent controversy over the BBC’s showing of a two-part investigative documentary, titled India: The Modi Question, which for the first time revealed a confidential investigation by the British government into the 2002 Gujarat riots that left more than a thousand Muslims dead. On February 26, a journalist employed with a TV channel was shot at by two unidentified bike-borne gunmen in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh. In his FIR, journalist Devendra Khare had alleged that he was allegedly being pressuring against reporting a recent attack on Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasabha national president Rajendra Tripathi and his family. On February 6, hours after a Ratnagiri-based local daily carried a front-page story about a land agent with alleged criminal antecedents, the story’s reporter was mowed down by a car allegedly driven by the subject of the story. Furthermore, Indian authorities have also been implicated in using the Israeli-produced spyware Pegasus to target journalists.
These are just a few examples of incidents that have occurred this year. It is worth noting that many journalists who have had cases filed against them in recent years are either still in jail or are out on bail, fighting against the current tyranny. Given the polarised environment, India has been labeled as dangerous for journalists. Freedom of expression protection in India has never been strong, and it is now dwindling even further.