NEW DELHI, 29 Jan: The Indian Journalists Union (IJU) has expressed grave concern over the rising instances of undue haste being shown by the Uttar Pradesh government and its police in targeting journalists and booking them under sedition laws.
In the past 48 hours, there were two such instances. One, the police booked a number of journalists, including senior editors, for sharing unverified news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day and “instigating violence” through their posts on social media. On the other, the government booked three journalists after they aired a news report on a local TV channel alleging the Kanpur Dehat district officials made government
school children “shiver in biting cold” during an event to mark the UP Divas on 24 January.
Regarding the tweets on Republic Day, in the FIRs against well-known journalists, including the National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, three from The Caravan – editor and founder Paresh Nath, editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K Jose, a resident of Noida, Arpit Singh accused them of circulating fake news in a coordinated and well-planned manner, alleging the police had shot a person dead. “It was done deliberately, so that it causes large-scale riot and communal violence among various communities… this act of theirs tried to build insurrection against the Indian republic and tried to sow the seeds of enmity, violence…”.
In the incident concerning school children district’s ‘basic education officer’, Sunil Dutt, in an FIR charged journalists with “public mischief” and “criminal intimidation”. The visuals showed schoolchildren waiting in summer uniforms, as the attendees clad in winter wear, seated inside. Dutt accused the journalists of “misrepresenting yoga and exercise programme,” and alleged they weren’t even present during the event, but carried the report without being aware of the issue at hand.
In a statement, IJU president Geetartha Pathak and secretary-general Sabina Inderjit said that the UP government’s record of intimidation of journalists and misusing the sedition law is getting worse, revealing contempt for press freedom and freedom of expression. The posts on social media were on the basis of quotes and it is preposterous that the FIR are lodged accusing them of building “insurrection against the Indian republic,” said the union.
The IJU demanded that the FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the state stop its shenanigans of intimidating and harassing journalists. “Surely, the UP government could put posts on social media clarifying the situation or even send rebuttal to the journalists and TV channel for them to carry as are journalistic norms,” it said.
It asked the UP government to note that the IFJ and IPI have written to the prime minister, urging him to bring a halt to misuse of sedition law to browbeat the media.