Peoples' Media Initiative (PMI) strongly condemns the government of Gujarat led by Narendra Modi for the arrest of a Surat based Journalist under the charges of sedition. Manoj Shinde, the editor of a Gujarati evening daily Surat Saamna was arrested by the Gujarat Police at the behest of Gandhinagar administration early morning of August 29, 2006. His subsequent bail application was rejected by the Fast Track Court of Surat on September 5, 2006.
Mr. Shinde, a young journalist, in his front page editorial dated August 28, 2006 criticised the failure of Modi government in tackling flood situation and utter negligence towards relief work. He also lambasted the Modi administration for irresponsibility leading to mysterious epidemic in which innumerable people are dying daily in the city.
Shinde was charged under section 124(a) - Sedition, 292 - Sale, etc., of obscene books, etc., 293 - Sale, etc., of obscene objects to young person, 294 - Obscene acts and songs, 500 - Punishment for defamation, 501 - Printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory, 502 - Sale of printed or engraved substance containing defamatory matter, 505 - Statements conducting to public mischief
The same charges were applied to the distribution agent of the newspaper and the printer and they were also arrested along with Mr. Shinde. In spite of certain indecent words used by Mr. Shinde - which we do not subscribe or defend under any circumstances - PMI feels that the governmental action is unconstitutional and taken with a vengeance to silence dissenting voice. It is an attack on the Freedom of Expression and Speech and if allowed to stride forward unabated it will result in a coercive silencing of the media which to our opinion is an unmasked attack on democracy and democratic rights and goes against the principles of any free society. It will result in the shrinkage of the open space of any criticism, discussion, debates, etc. It is also an affront on the freedom of the press and media.
In this context, it is pertinent to point out that one Dr. Homi Dudhwala, Medical Superintendent of Corporation run Maskati Hospital, Surat is also charged with Sedition for some minor negligence of duty. All these are indicators of the authoritarian and an unacceptable manner in which the Modi government is functioning. PMI appeals to all democratic and freedom loving people to raise their voice and protest against the dictatorial behaviour of the Modi government.
We have not yet been able to verify the 'certain indecent words' used by Mr Shinde in his editorial. It has been reported by people close to him that Mr Shinde was targeted because he is a media convenor of the Congress party for flood relief and other political programmes. Lawyer and human rights activist Girish Patel says that, "Shinde’s editorial doesn’t amount to sedition as the comments were against an individual. The tendency here is that the CM considers himself to be Gujarat. It is not sedition even if he is called Hitler. It may amount to defamation but not sedition." -- outlookindia.com