Why is the UP government targeting journalists?

DUJ stands by Siddharth Varadrajan, says asking him to travel amidst the lockdown is nothing short of harassment

The wire

Even though the national lockdown, a crucial move to slow down the Coronavirus transmission, is in place, and interstate borders are sealed, the Uttar Pradesh government has summoned a senior Delhi journalist to Ayodhya. He has not been called to report on an important development in the state, nor has he been called to report on how the many Coronavirus hotspots in the state are facing. Siddharth Varadarajan, founding editor of The Wire, has been called to appear in Ayodhya on April 14, in connection with a case registered against him by Uttar Pradesh Police, which took exception to a factual report in his publication. The Wire article had stated that UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and other people had attended a religious ceremony in Ayodhya after the national lockdown was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi . 

Sociologist Nandini Sundar, Varadarajan’s partner, posted how the notice was served to her at their residence by policemen in plainclothes.  Her post said, “Today, April 10, at 2 pm a plainclothes man came to our home and said he had come from the Ayodhya ‘prashasan’ to serve notice on @svaradarajan. He would not give his name. I told him to leave it in the mailbox. He refused. At 3:20, he & 7-8 uniformed men (at least 2 not in masks) came in a black SUV, no number plates. Only 2 identified themselves. On insisting, they gave the plainclothesman’s name as Chanderbhan Yadav, not designation. Cops said they’d driven from Ayodhya for this essential service! 

They wouldn’t let me sign the notice—”Our rule is not to give it to women and minors”. When asked to be shown the rule, they sought instructions on the phone and let me sign. Then, they phoned their boss to say “notice has been received”.” 


It is noteworthy that some of the policeman said they had driven 700 km from Ayodhya to Delhi to serve the notice, even as the national Lockdown is at its strictest phase with only essential movement allowed within cities leave alone state borders. According to an article  put up by The Wire itself the notice has been issued under Section 41(A) of the Criminal Procedure Code, “cites an FIR registered by the Faizabad police claiming that Varadarajan had made an “objectionable” comment about Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. This is one of two FIRs registered on the basis of private complaints by individuals described as residents of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. In one of the FIRs, the complainant objects to an unspecified tweet by Varadarajan, while the second complainant, as recorded in the FIR, says:

“The Wire editor on his blog (sic), with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public, publicised the following message:

“On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Yogi Adityanath insisted that a large fair planned for Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navami from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual while Acharya Paramhans said that ‘Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’. One day after Modi announced the “curfew like” national lockdown on March 24, Adityanath violated the official guidelines to take part in a religious ceremony in Ayodhya along with dozens of people”.”

Journalists across the country have strongly condemned this action, and the FIRs filed Varadarajan by the Uttar Pradesh government. “This constitutes nothing but a brazen attempt to muzzle the media. The Wire was accused of causing panic when it reported that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath attended a religious event on March 25 at Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navmi, when a national lockdown was in force. The Wire  has held that the CM’s presence was a matter of public record and knowledge. A sentence in an article in The Wire had wrongly attributed a statement made by Acharya Paramhans to the chief minister, which was not only retracted but a corrigendum issued as well. Rather than let the matter end there, a FIR was filed in Faizabad district,” stated the journalists. 

The media fraternity feels that the way the UP government has been pursuing this matter with, “a single minded agenda smacks of vindictiveness. The state has an extra responsibility to exercise restraint on use of its powers when citizens are restricted in exercising many of their usual democratic rights. Freedom of the press is doubly important in such a context as people cannot make news themselves but independent media is the most important medium of expressing their concerns. We demand that such politically motivated harassment of mediapersons should stop immediately.” 

The Delhi Union of Journalists has also condemned the UP government’s move and said that in view of the current lockdown, “It is evident that Varadarajan would not be able to travel to Ayodhya in time for such an appearance. This is clearly harassment of a senior journalist and an attack on media freedom at a critical time.

The DUJ said that as the Coronavirus continues to spread, journalists were literally putting their lives at risk to report developments vital to control of the national health emergency. “The nation and its leadership should appreciate the valuable work being done by us in these challenging times, instead of settling political scores,” it stated.  

The DUJ statement explains that two FIRs against Varadarajan reportedly invoke Section 66 D of the IT Act, “which involves punishment for cheating by impersonation by using computer resource as well as IPC Sections 188 (disobedience to order issued by a public servant) and 505 (2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes).”  

When the charges were filed many journalists, across the media, had endorsed statements condemning the action. The Editors’ Guild of India has called the move  “an overreaction and an act of intimidation”. 

The DUJ too has demanded the immediate withdrawal of the charges against Varadarajan and The Wire. “We urge all governments, both in the states and at the centre, to concentrate on attacking the virus and protecting citizens from the fallout of the lockdown, including joblessness and accompanying hunger, instead of attacking media persons. It is our job to report freely and fearlessly and we must be allowed to safeguard the health and well-being of citizens by doing our duty,” it stated. 



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