Reporters Sans Frontières, also known as Reporters Without Borders, on Thursday condemned the first information report filed by the Uttar Pradesh Police against Scroll.in Executive Editor Supriya Sharma, for a report on the effects of the country’s lockdown to combat the coronavirus in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency of Varanasi.
“In India, independent news portal @scroll_in’s editor @sharmasupriya has just been booked for a report on the effects of the lockdown to combat coronavirus,” Reporters Without Borders, an organisation that promotes the cause of press freedom around the world, said in a tweet on Thursday. “@RSF_inter condemns in the strongest terms this blatent [blatant] attempt to intimidate one of India’s most resilient reporter!”
The Committee to Protect Journalists retweeted a report in The Hindu about the FIR.
The case includes, among others, sections related to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The FIR filed on June 13 has also charged Sharma under Sections 501 and 269 of the Indian Penal Code. While the former deals with printing “defamatory matter”, the latter pertains to “negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life”.
The police have also named the “editor-in-chief” of Scroll.in in the report.
Scroll.in has reported the article accurately and stands by it.
Many journalists, activists and writers also condemned the FIR, calling it an attack on the freedom of expression, and an attempt to frighten journalists. “Supriya Sharma” was among the top trends in India on Twitter on Thursday as several people took to the social media platform to express their support.
Journalist Mrinal Pande said: “It’s a sad day for Indian journalism and the right to freedom of expression when an honest, dedicated winner of several awards for her meticulous work like Supriya Sharma, is penalised thus.”
Novelist Nilanjana Roy said that the FIR shows that anything can happen in “New India”.
The police, the FIR states, acted on a complaint filed by Mala Devi, a resident of Varanasi’s Domari village. Sharma had interviewed Mala as part of a series from Varanasi district on the impact of the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Domari village has been adopted by the prime minister under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. In the interview, Mala told Scroll.in she was a domestic worker and experienced food distress during the lockdown since she did not have a ration card.
However, according to the FIR, Mala Devi in her complaint to the police alleged Sharma misrepresented her comments and identity. She claimed she was not a domestic worker, but worked as a sanitation worker at the Varanasi city municipality through “outsourcing”.
“During the lockdown, neither me or anyone in my family faced any problems,” the FIR quotes her. “By saying that me and children went hungry, Supriya Sharma had made fun of my poverty and caste.”
In a statement, Scroll.in said:
“Scroll.in interviewed Mala in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020. Her statements have accurately been reported in the article titled, ‘In Varanasi village adopted by Prime Minister Modi, people went hungry during the lockdown.’
Scroll.in stands by the article, which has been reported from the Prime Minister’s constituency. This FIR is an attempt to intimidate and silence independent journalism, reporting on conditions of vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 lockdown.”