The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday said reports of police action against journalists across the country were “deeply disturbing”. It said there was “a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws” to intimidate journalists. The guild cited two instances – one from Gujarat and another from Delhi.
“The government and the police must recognise that the media is an integral part of the governance structure in any democracy,” the guild said in a statement. “The Guild condemns these actions and asks the state and central governments to desist from misusing the law to threaten the free press.”
In the first instance of the journalist in Gujarat, the guild said the police misused the special laws. Dhaval Patel, the editor of a Gujarati news website, has been charged with sedition and detained for publishing an article suggesting that Chief Minister Vijay Rupani may be replaced by Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya. The article had reportedly claimed that the top leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party were unhappy with Rupani’s management of the coronavirus crisis.
“Patel was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and with spreading false panic under Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act,” said the guild. “This is a misuse of special laws, besides sedition and IPC.”
In the second instance from Delhi, the guild called the police actions “egregious and high-handed”. On May 10, the Delhi Police issued a notice to a journalist working with The Indian Express, a day after the newspaper published an article on the Tablighi Jamaat inquiry that the police said was “factually incorrect...purely conjectural”. The notice, sent to the city editor and the chief reporter of the newspaper, asked reporter Mahender Singh Manral to join the investigation into the Markaz Nizamuddin event or face legal action that may attract a jail term and a fine.
“This appears to be a little more than a fishing expedition to try and extract the journalist’s source and, thus, warn other reporters,” said the guild.