IFJ Calls for Debate Following Conviction of Columnist in India

The

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned by the January 28

conviction of Anish Trivedi, a one-time columnist for the Mumbai-based

afternoon daily Mid-Day on charges of causing offence to communities

disadvantaged by India’s

traditional caste hierarchy.

 

In a

column published in 2006, Trivedi argued that the dismal performance of many of

India’s

institutions of governance was a consequence of the policy of affirmative

action, which assured disadvantaged communities representation in the staffing

of all these institutions. He followed up this assessment with remarks on individuals

belonging to these communities that aroused serious resentment.

 

Mumbai

city police soon afterwards took up the prosecution of this matter on the basis

of a complaint received from aggrieved private citizens.

 

On January

28, a trial court in Mumbai sentenced Trivedi to a six-month term of

imprisonment and a fine of INR 25,000 (USD 535).

 

The IFJ is

informed that Trivedi had, even before the formal institution of charges against

him, apologised unconditionally in the columns of Mid-day, and retracted

all the observations made.

 

“The IFJ

recognises that affirmative action was introduced for the benefit of people and

communities disadvantaged by historical circumstances, and is a part of the

settled political consensus in India,”

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline

Park said.

 

“We are

also supportive of the special legislation introduced by the Indian government

to curb atrocities – in both word and deed – against these communities.”

 

The IFJ

however, is unsure about the wisdom of sentencing a columnist to a six-month

term of imprisonment for remarks that he has apologised for. In normal

circumstances, the right of reply granted unconditionally to any individual or

community that may have reason to feel aggrieved by a published opinion, would

be considered fair compensation. If that is deemed insufficient, then an

apology by the author of the offending piece would be called for, accompanied

by a full retraction of his opinion.

 

“These

procedures appear to have been followed by Mid-day, despite which the

columnist has earned a prison term”, Ms Park said.

 

“The IFJ supports

public debate in India

on the norms that should be applied in matters involving the sensitivities of

particular communities. Free speech cannot be construed as the right to cause

offence. Yet there should be sufficient safeguards to allow for expressions of

opinion that would contribute to the public dialogue on important issues of

policy”.

 

Trivedi has

been granted bail by the Mumbai trial court, pending appeal.

 

For

further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

 

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IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

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