The Editors Guild of India on Monday criticised the Uttar Pradesh police’s handling of the death of a television journalist. Sulabh Shrivastava, who worked for ABP News, died in in Pratapgarh district on Sunday, a day after he complained to the police about facing threats from the liquor mafia because of his reportage.

The police said Shrivastava died in a road accident while he was returning home on his bike. But a photograph of Shrivastava’s body showed injuries on his face and his clothes were partially removed. Later, the police registered a first information report against unknown persons in the case.

“The Editors Guild of India is shocked by the cavalier manner in which Uttar Pradesh Police is treating the mysterious death of TV journalist, Sulabh Srivastava, in Pratapgrah,” it said in a statement. “Srivastava, who had been threatened by the liquor mafia for exposing their wrongdoings, had recently written a letter to the police expressing grave apprehensions for his life. He believed that some people were following him. The authorities paid no heed to his fears.”

Shrivastava had told the police on Saturday that he felt he was being followed every time he stepped out of his house since his report on raids on illegal liquor factories in the state. The journalist had urged the police to investigate the threats and provide security to him and his family.

The association also pointed out the crucial timing of Srivastava’s death. “His death comes at a time when media is facing increasing pressures from central and state governments who insist that they follow the official narrative regarding the administration’s handling of the pandemic,” the statement said.

The guild accused the police and the authorities of unjustifiably arresting journalists on charges of sedition and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. “This is against the spirit of the judgment given by the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh case and re-iterated in the recent sedition case against Vinod Dua,” it added.

The association said the government’s actions against voices of dissent, be it that of journalists’ or cartoonists’, was contrary to the commitments that Prime Minister Narendra Modi made at the G7 summit.

Modi’s address to G7

On Sunday, Modi had said India was a natural ally of G7 countries in defending “shared values” from authoritarianism, terrorism and violent extremism, disinformation and economic coercion. He also stressed on the need to ensure that cyberspace remains an avenue for advancing democratic values and not for subverting it.

On the same day, India signed a joint statement by G7 countries on “open societies”, which upholds “human rights for all, both online and offline” and the freedom of expression. The statement referred to “politically motivated internet shutdowns” as one of the threats to freedom and democracy.

However, India is a leading offender in this category. It recorded the highest number of internet shutdowns in the world in 2020, according to a report by digital rights and privacy organisation Access Now on March 3. Of the total 155 internet shutdowns globally, India alone accounted for 109, according to the report. The next highest was Yemen, with six shutdowns, and Ethiopia with four.