The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today expressed deep concern over the restrictions on freedom of expression posed by the proposed Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005. The Bill, passed in the winter session of the Chattisgarh Assembly in December, and awaits Presidential assent to become a law.
The controversial Bill prohibits the media from reporting any activities that can be termed as “unlawful activities”. In effect, it bars the media from reporting on any activities of the banned Maoist party in the strife torn state.
“Freedom of the press is a pre-requisite for the peaceful resolution of conflict, and restricting the media from carrying out its professional activities can only lead to more suspicion and misinformation,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
When the Bill was being debated in the assembly, the opposition Congress had boycotted the proceedings in protest against the government's agricultural policies. The hasty of the passing of the Bill demonstrates a lack of democratic debate.
The proposed Act contains several draconian measures. Punishment for up to seven years is provided for committing an “unlawful” activity, the definition of which is imprecise and loose to encompass pursuits such as committing an act, uttering words, writing or making visual representations that may “create risk or danger” for public order, peace and public tranquillity or create an impediment in the administration of law or institutions. The present definition of “unlawful activities” jeopardises exercise of fundamental freedoms set out under Article 19 of the Constitution and will restrict the right to hold public meetings; organise public protests; and oppose government policies through the media.
Further, the proposed Act gives the government wide powers to declare any organisation as “unlawful”, and the stipulation to disclose reasons may be dispensed with in “public interest”. This represents a serious threat to civil society from expressing legitimate dissent against government policies.
“Under no circumstances has gagging the media and silencing journalists furthered the objective of tackling armed conflict. It is only when democratic debate and the free flow of accurate information is made possible is the cause of democracy furthered,” said Warren.
The proposed Act prescribes punishment with up to two years imprisonment for making a contribution to an unlawful organisation or for protecting a member of an unlawful organisation. There is a real danger that blanket application of this provision may result in undue harassment of persons coerced by insurgent groups to provide sustenance and shelter to them.
“We urge the President of India not to give his assent to this undemocratic legislation, and initiate public debate on the complex causes of conflict, rather than treat it as a law and order problem,” said Warren.
For more information please contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries