The Editors Guild of India on Monday asked Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath to free jailed journalists, withdraw cases that were being reviewed, and also ensure the safety of all mediapersons working in the state.
In a letter to the chief minister, the association said several incidents that took place in the state recently raised concerns about the “space for free, fearless and independent journalism”.
“While you were right to promptly uphold the freedom of the press when an editor of a TV [television] 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,” the letter, signed by Seema Mustafa, the president of the guild, its General Secretary Sanjay Kapoor and Treasurer Anant Nath, said. “Many of them have been unjustifiably arrested on spurious charges.”
Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah have voiced their support for Goswami and condemned the Maharashtra government for his arrest. On Sunday, the party’s leaders Tajinder Bagga and Kapil Mishra were detained for staging a demonstration, seeking the journalist’s release.
The Guild’s letter further listed a few cases, including that of Scroll.in’s Supriya Sharma and Delhi-based journalist Siddique Kappan.
- Supriya Sharma: The Uttar Pradesh Police had registered a first information report against Scroll.in’s executive editor Supriya Sharma for a report on the effects of the country’s lockdown to combat the coronavirus in Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s constituency. The case included, among others, sections related to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. “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 coronavirus induced lockdown due to a shortage of food support,” the letter added.
- Siddique Kappan: Kappan, a Delhi-based journalist, who works for Malayalam news portal Azhimukham, was booked along with three others under Section 17 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, when they were on their way to report on the gangrape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras. He is lodged in Mathura jail and the police had booked him along with the others over an alleged conspiracy to incite riots along caste lines and also to defame the Uttar Pradesh government over the gangrape. “He still remains in jail and his family hasn’t been allowed to speak to him,” the letter said.
- Ashish Tomar, Shakil Ahmed, Lakhan Singh, Aamir Khan and Moin Ahmad: The letter said the five journalists from Bijnor were arrested on September 7 under Section 153A (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) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 66A of the Information Technology 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,” it said, adding that the journalists stood by their story and the district administration was forced to take back the case after an action committee of mediapersons registered a protest.
- Ravindra Saxena: The letter said that Saxena, a reporter of news portal Today-24, was booked under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Disaster Management Act for reporting about the mismanagement of a quarantine centre in Maholi tehsil of Sitapur. “After protests of journalists, Saxena’s arrest was stalled but the FIR has not been withdrawn,” it said.
- Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra: The police filed cases against Vijay Vineet and Manish Mishra, journalists of local daily Janadesh Times, for their report that was published on March 26 regarding the plight of the Musahar residents of Varanasi’s Koiripur village accompanied by a visual showing children eating grass.
- Asad Rizvi: The police assaulted the Lucknow-based freelance journalist on October 2, while he was reporting on protests in the city following the rape of a 19-year-old Dalit girl in Hathras, the guild said. “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,” the letter said, adding that the police tried to break his mobile phone and confiscated his memory card.
The Guild pointed out that safeguarding all constitutional rights were important, especially when it came to persevering a space for free media. It further said the association can send a delegation of national editors to Lucknow to meet the chief minister to find ways for creating a protective environment for the media to work without fear or favour.