The Editors Guild of India on Friday condemned the “intimidating manner” in which the police of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have registered cases against journalists and editors for reporting the violence during a tractor rally protest by farmers in Delhi on January 26.

The press body called this an attempt to “harass, browbeat and stifle” the media. That fact the FIRs have been booked under as many as ten different provisions including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs, was further disturbing, it said.

At least one protester was killed and over 300 police officers were injured after tens of thousands of farmers took to the streets of Delhi on Tuesday to call for the repeal of contentious new agriculture laws. The protestors broke through barricades and poured into the city, clashing with a police force that tried to push them back with tear gas and a baton charge. Some of them stormed the Red Fort.

The Uttar Pradesh Police on Thursday booked several journalists under sedition laws for allegedly misreporting and spreading disharmony during the clashes between the police and protesting farmers on Republic Day.

The FIR was filed against India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, The Caravan editor Anant Nath and its executive editor Vinod K Jose.

It accused them of inciting riots through their social media posts. The FIR said the accused persons circulated fake news alleging that the police have shot a person dead.

In a statement released on Friday, the Editors Guild noted that the journalists had been specifically targeted for reporting the accounts pertaining to the death of one of the protestors on their personal social media handles as well as those of the publications they lead and represent.

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“It must be noted that on the day of the protest and high action, several reports were emerging from eyewitnesses on the ground as well as from the police, and therefore it was only natural for journalists to report all the details as they emerged,” the press body said. “This is in line with established norms of journalistic practice.”

The FIRs against the journalists allege that the tweets were intentionally malicious and had incited the protestors to storm into the Red Fort. But “nothing can be further from truth,” the Editors Guild said. “On a day thick with information, the EGI finds these FIRs, filed in different states, as an attempt to intimidate, harass, browbeat, and stifle the media.”

The guild demanded that the FIRs be withdrawn immediately and the media be allowed to report
without fear and with freedom. “This targeting of journalists grievously violates and tramples on every value that our democratic republic stands for,” it said. “It is intended to grievously hurt the media and prevent it from working as an independent watchdog of Indian democracy.”

The press body added, “We re-iterate our earlier demand that the higher judiciary takes serious cognizance of the fact that several laws such as a sedition are often used to impede freedom of speech, and issue guidelines to ensure that wanton use of such laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press”.