Indian journalist Siddharth Varadarajan was one of 17 recipients of the Freedom of Speech Award presented by German public news outlet Deutsche Welle on Sunday, for showing “outstanding commitment to human rights and freedom of expression in the media”. The announcement came on World Press Freedom Day.
“In 2020, in the midst of the corona crisis, DW has decided to honor 17 journalists from 14 countries,” the news organisation said. “They represent all journalists worldwide who have disappeared or been arrested or threatened because of their reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It also added that the recipients are being honoured on behalf of all media professionals around the world who are publishing independent information about the coronavirus pandemic while working under difficult conditions. “At a moment of a global health emergency, journalism serves a crucial function, and each journalist bears great responsibility,” DW Director General Peter Limbourg said, while announcing the winners in Berlin.
“Citizens of any country have the right of access to fact-based information and critical findings,” he added. “Any form of censorship may result in casualties and any attempts to criminalise coverage of the current situation clearly violate the freedom of expression.”
The others who received the award include Ana Lalic from Serbia, Russian investigative journalist Elena Milashina, Venezuela’s freelance journalist Darvinson Rojas, TV journalist David Musisi Karyankolo from Uganda, three Chinese journalists Chen Qiushi, Li Zehua, Fang Bin, among others.
Varadarajan, The Wire’s founding editor, was named in a first information report in April for allegedly spreading fake news against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath. Varadarajan in a tweet had mistakenly attributed a quote – that “Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus” – to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister. The next day, he posted a clarification, noting that the statement had been made by Acharya Paramhans, the head of the Ayodhya temple trust. A correction was also made to The Wire’s article.
He was, however, served a notice by the state police on April 10 to appear in Ayodhya despite the ongoing nation-wide lockdown to rein in the coronavirus pandemic. Over 3,300 citizens have also urged the Uttar Pradesh government to withdraw the first information report and drop all criminal proceedings against Varadarajan, saying it was a direct attack on press freedom.
Meanwhile, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar on Sunday claimed the media in India “enjoys absolute freedom” and that he “will expose those surveys that tend to portray a bad picture about press freedom” in the country.