The International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) today releases apaperon the criminalisation of free speech
and expression in India,
drawing attention to a recent spike in legal prosecution of journalists and
media organisations. Some of these actions are taken under special security
laws enacted in conflict prone areas, while several are under ordinary criminal
law in regions where no perceptible threat of insurgent violence exists.
The paper was presented and
discussed at a regional symposium on “Criminalisation of Speech, Expression and
Opinion in Asia” in Jakarta,
July 15 and 16. The symposium was hosted by the Asian Forum for Human Rights
and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), the
Southeast Asia Media Legal Defense Network (SEAMLDN) and the Alliance of
Independent Journalists of Indonesia (AJI), an IFJ affiliate. The U.N. Special
Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, was a special invitee to the
The Indian Constitution protects the
right to free speech and only grants that “reasonable restrictions” can be
imposed on specified grounds. The Indian Supreme Court has established
guidelines on when such restrictions can be legally permitted, though experts
believe that the judiciary’s understanding of this is still fragmented.
Criminal defamation cases and hate
speech prosecutions have also been launched against journalists and media, with
barely concealed political motives. In its eagerness to prosecute for contempt,
the judiciary has also provided insufficient protection to journalists when
issues questioning its own functioning are raised.
Actions by the police and security
agencies, the IFJ study judges, are often taken with the knowledge that the
cases involved will never go through the full process of trial, but would serve
the function of silencing critical commentary in the media.
The IFJ study concludes that “the
free speech right remains hostage to conflicting judicial interpretations and
uncertain ethical commitments by the officers of the state”. It urges media
managers and journalists’ organisations to organise and mount a legal challenge
“that will establish a framework of rules for the responsible and socially
committed exercise of the right of free speech”.
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