The Editors Guild of India on November 9 sent a letter to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath raising concerns over media freedom and the safety of journalists in the state.
"We are writing to urge you to address vital issues with respect to protecting press freedom and the rights and safety of working journalists, in the state of Uttar Pradesh. In the recent past, several incidents have come to fore, which raise deep concerns on the space for free, fearless and independent journalism in Uttar Pradesh," began the letter, signed by Guild President Seema Mustafa, General Secretary Sanjay Kapoor and Treasurer Anant Nath.
"While you were right to promptly uphold the freedom of the press when an editor of a TV channel was arrested in Mumbai, there are far more compelling cases of intimidation, harassment by authorities of working journalists in UP, who were prevented from doing their job," it said.
"Many of them have been unjustifiably arrested on spurious charges. We are listing below some such cases:
- Siddique Kappan: A Delhi-based journalist who works for Malayalam news portal Azhimukham, accompanied by three others, was on his way to Hathras, to report the gang rape of a dalit girl, when he was picked up in Mathura on October 5, 2020 and later booked under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Two others, reportedly associated with Campus Front of India, the students’ wing of Kerala–based Popular Front of India, were charged by the UP police of planting evidence in the form of a pamphlet. Kappan, along with others, is lodged in Mathura jail. According to the police they were part of an internationally-funded “conspiracy” to stoke caste riots in UP in the wake of the Hathras gang rape. On November 4, the Mathura chief judicial magistrate granted 48-hour police remand to the UP Special Task Force for questioning. He still remains in jail and his family hasn’t been allowed to speak to him.
- Supriya Sharma: A case was registered against Supriya Sharma, Executive Editor of Scroll, on June 18, 2020 under the SC/ST Act and IPC 501 (printing or engraving matter known to be defamatory), and 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) for reporting a series of stories on the poor state of affairs in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency. The case was filed on the complaint of Mala Devi, a resident of Domari, the village adopted by PM Modi in Varanasi, alleging that Supriya Sharma had wrongly reported that her condition had worsened during the Corona virus induced lockdown due to a shortage of food support.
- Cases were filed against five journalists of Bijnor- Ashish Tomar, Shakil Ahmed, Lakhan Singh, Aamir Khan and Moin Ahmad on September 7, 2020 under IPC 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 268 (public nuisance) and 503 (criminal intimidation) and Section 66A of the IT Act. The FIR had charged Tomar and Ahmed of trying to vitiate social amity by circulating fake news about a Valmiki family from Titarwala Basi village, under Mandwar police station, putting their house on sale after not being allowed to collect water from the village hand pump due to the harassment of local musclemen. The journalists stood by their story and the district administration had to take back the case after an action committee of scribes lodged a protest.
- Ravindra Saxena: For reporting about the mismanagement of a quarantine centre of Maholi tehsil of Sitapur, this reporter of Today-24 a news portal, was booked under SC/ST Act and the Disaster Management Act. After protests of journalists, Saxena’s arrest was stalled but the FIR has not been withdrawn.
- Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra: Cases were filed against these journalists from a local daily Janadesh Times for their report appearing on March 26, 2020 regarding the plight of the Musahar residents of Koiripur village in Varanasi district accompanied by a visual showing children eating grass.
- Asad Rizvi, a Lucknow based freelance journalist, was assaulted by the police on October 2, while he was reporting on protests in the city, in the aftermath of the rape of a dalit girl in Hathras a few weeks earlier. In a complaint letter written by Rizvi to police and state authorities, he mentioned that he was beaten up by 7-8 policemen, even though he had told them he was a journalist and was simply covering the protest site. After that, the police tried to break his mobile phone and confiscated his memory card.
- As the Chief Minister of India’s largest state, you are well aware of the important precedence that the state sets with respect to safeguarding all constitutional rights. This is especially crucial with respect to preserving the space for free media, more so at a time when the world has been in the throes of a pandemic. Media has played an important role in raising awareness about the pandemic," the letter said.
"We urge you to free the jailed journalists, withdraw cases that are under review, as well as to ensure safety of all working journalists in the state. Editors Guild is keen to send a delegation of national Editors to Lucknow, to meet you and to work with your administration to explore ways that can create a protective environment for the media to work without fear or favour," the letter concluded.