New Delhi, Feb 1 (efe-epa).- Recent charges of sedition against several Indian journalists and editors for their coverage and comments during the violence at a farmers’ march a week ago in New Delhi, led a wave of criticism on Monday for what is being interpreted as an attack on press freedom.
The editors of the prestigious magazine The Caravan, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath and Vinod K Jose, and the renowned online newspaper The Wire, Siddharth Varadarajan, are among those accused of sedition or promoting hostility for their coverage of the violence that occurred on Jan. 26 during India’s Republic Day celebrations.
“Weaponizing archaic laws such as Sedition to stifle journalists negates the founding principles of our democracy that recognises the rights of news media to report without fear or favour. Laws such as Sedition are also increasingly being used to impede the functioning of a free press,” the News Broadcasters Association said in a statement.
The peasants’ march with thousands of tractors was scheduled to run peacefully through the roads on the outskirts of New Delhi, but a group of protesters got off the track and entered the center of the capital, leading to clashes with anti-riot forces that left nearly 400 policemen injured and one farmer dead.
Initially several media outlets attributed the protester’s death to a gunshot, according to several witnesses. However, the police later reported that it was caused by an accident when the tractor he was driving overturned – something that was confirmed by the autopsy report.
The Chandigarh Press Club, in the west of the country, explained in a statement that last Tuesday’s events “were chaotic and information was not easily available,” and in these circumstances, it was “reprehensible” to pin blame on the journalists.
The Indian Express newspaper reported that Twitter has blocked some one hundred accounts and 150 messages on the recommendations of the Indian authorities for allegedly posting fake, intimidating and provocative tweets. However, it could not confirm whether they were related to the peasant rally.
Among the blocked Twitter accounts was that of The Caravan which, according to the social network, was withheld in India “in response to a legal demand”.
“While Twitter withheld Caravan’s official handle without informing us, you can still access the magazine from the website,” The Caravan’s editor Vinod K Jose posted on his personal Twitter account.
However, Twitter itself became the main platform to voice criticism against these recent measures against journalists and the media.
“Make no mistake – this is part of an all-round assault on the freedom (and duty) of the press to give voice to the people and not just report the government’s version of events,” Scroll India’s Executive Editor Supriya Sharma posted.
India ranks 142 out of 180 countries in the 2020 press freedom index of the nonprofit Reporters Without Borders. EFE-EPA