India: Journalists targeted for reporting farmer protest

At least nine journalists have been targeted by police by arrests, intimidation and criminal charges over reporting and online posts about the ongoing farmers’ protest in India since protests began in November 2020. The protests reached a climax on January 26, with death of protestor Navreet Singh. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Indian affiliate Indian Journalists Union (IJU) condemn the tactics used to suppress media.

An Indian farmer throws back a tear gas shell fired by police during a rally against the central government's recent agricultural reforms . Many journalists have been attacked and harassed during the protest. Credit: AFP.

In the latest of a series of targeted attacks against journalists, Delhi police detained freelance journalist Mandeep Punia at a Singhu border protest site on January 30 on charges of trying to break barricades and fighting with police. He was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (including articles 186, 353, 332 and 34). Police confiscated his camera and deleted all the records. Online News India journalist Dharmender Singh was arrested the same day from a farmers’ protest in Sindhu protest siteand released on January 31, 2021. The contents of his camera were also deleted. 

Seven other journalists have also been charged for reporting on the protests, including six charged with sedition for reporting or  sharing news about the farmers protest, particularly related to the death of protester Navreet Singh on January 29. Singh’s family claims his death was caused by a police bullet, while Delhi police claim he died as a result of a tractor accident. Journalists who reported or shared the news against the police claim were charged under various draconian laws.   

Police in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district registered a first information report (FIR) against The Wire‘s founding editor Siddharth Varadarajan on January 31 accusing him of sharing  inaccurate posts on Twitter about the incident and charging  him under Sections 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 505(2) (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Similarly, journalists have been charged with sedition for reporting or  sharing allegedly unverified news during the farmers’ tractor rally in New Delhi. These include Rajdeep Sardesai, a prominent anchor on India Today, Mrinal Pande, of National Herald; Zafar Agha, of Qaumi Awaz; Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, and Vinod K. Jose of The Caravan .  Most of the FIRs against the media allege the accused tried to provoke the protesters for their political and personal gain by spreading false and misleading information online.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers have protested on the outskirts of Delhi since November 2020 demanding the withdrawal of a series of agricultural laws introduced in September 2020.

The president of the Indian Journalists Union (IJU), Geetartha Pathak, said: “India has a worsening track record of intimidating journalists misusing the sedition and other draconian laws. The IJU has long been advocating against such the misuse of law. We urge the Indian government to withdraw the cases against all nine journalists and ensure their safety.”

IFJ said: “Arresting, intimidating and lodging complaints against journalists for their news reports and their online post is a blatant misuse of power and law against journalists. The IFJ urges the Indian government to withdraw the criminal – charges against all nine  journalists and ensure that such the misuse of power and law will not be repeated in future.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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