The Editors Guild of India on Monday said that the first information report filed against journalist Vinod Dua last week was a brazen attack on free speech. The association also expressed concern over other incidents where journalists had to face “frivolous” charges.
“The Editors Guild of India is deeply concerned by the growing tendency among police in various states to take cognisance of frivolous charges against journalists and convert them into a First Information Report,” the association said in a statement. “The latest instance is of the Delhi Police’s FIR against veteran journalist Vinod Dua, based on a complaint by Naveen Kumar, who has been identified as a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party.”
The guild described the allegations against Dua as a “brazen attack on his right to free speech”. “An FIR based on this is an instrument of harassment setting off a process that is itself a punishment. The Guild unequivocally condemns this practice and urges the police to respect Constitutionally guaranteed freedoms rather than behave in a manner that raises questions on its independence.”
On Friday, the Delhi Police had filed an FIR against Dua for allegedly misreporting the communal violence that took place in the Capital in February and spreading fake news through his YouTube show. The BJP leader who filed the complaint against Dua also alleged that he had blamed the Centre of doing nothing to stop the violence in Delhi.
Last month, the Editors Guild of India had said that reports of police action against journalists across the country were “deeply disturbing” and that 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.
- Editors Guild condemns police action against journalists, says criminal laws being misused
- FIRs against Kashmiri journalists sends message that media exists at the mercy of security agencies
Dhaval Patel, the editor of a Gujarati news website, had 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 BJP were unhappy with Rupani’s management of the coronavirus crisis.
In the second instance, the Delhi Police had 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 asked the newspaper’s 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.
There have also been several instances of police action against journalists from Jammu and Kashmir. On April 18, freelance photojournalist Masrat Zahra was charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for her social media posts. Just three days later, the police filed a case against freelance journalist Gowhar Geelani for “unlawful activities” on social media.
In April, India found itself two positions lower in the latest press freedom index. The country is ranked at the 142nd place.