Since India imposed the nationwide lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak on March 25, at least 24 mediapersons have been impeded from doing their work. The impediment has been in the form of police interrogation, notices, detention, FIR, arrest, even assault.
In Kashmir, journalists have been booked under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which allows the government to proscribe individuals as terrorists and imprison them for up to seven years.
Uttar Pradesh alone has booked eight journalists, more than any other state. The other cases are from Himachal pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bihar, and Maharashtra.
Mostly, the journalists have been booked under the Indian Penal Code’s Section 188, which criminalises disobeying a public servant’s order, and Section 505 (1)(b), which punishes causing fear and alarm to the public “whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state”. Punitive sections of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 have been invoked as well.
“Blaming the media at this juncture can only undermine the current work being done by it under trying circumstances,” the Editors Guild of India said in a in early April, after the Narendra Modi government held the media responsible for the crisis involving stranded migrant workers in a submission to the Supreme Court. “Such charges can also obstruct in the process of dissemination of news during an unprecedented crisis facing the country. No democracy anywhere in the world is fighting the pandemic by gagging its media.”
In the latest press freedom rankings of Reporters Without Borders, an international media freedom watchdog, India slipped to 142 from 140 out of 180 nations. The drop was attributed to "pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government's line".
In this context, Newslaundry compiled a list of every reported incident of a journalist facing trouble for doing their job since the lockdown began. Here it is:
Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, Jerald Aruldas, M Balaji
Pandian is the founder and chief executive of SimpliCity. Aruldas is a reporter and Balaji a photographer with the news website based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Pandian was on April 23 after the website reported on the challenges faced by healthcare workers battling the coronavirus outbreak as well as corruption at a Public Distribution System outlet. He was booked under sections of the IPC and the Epidemic Diseases Act. Pandian was granted bail by a local court after executing a bond for Rs 10,000. Aruldas and Balaji were detained for close to 10 hours at a local police station.
A cameraman with Sun News, he was from Tamil Nadu’s Minjur town after he shot staff at a Primary Health Centre handing out medicines to patients without a doctor’s prescription. He was labelled a “fake journalist”, and arrested by the police on April 7. Damodharan spent 10 days in the police station, where he claims he was physically assaulted. Charges of cheating, forgery, and preventing a public servant from discharging his duty were levelled against him. He is currently out on bail.
A reporter with the TV channel News1 India based in Lucknow, Pandey was by Uttar Pradesh police’s Special Task Force on May 1 after reporting on an letter circulated within the state administration discussing poor quality PPEs being supplied to hospitals and medical colleges.
Subhas Rai and Vijay Vineet
Rai is the editor of Jansandesh Times and Vineet a reporter. On March 26, they were a showcause notice by the district magistrate of Varanasi, where the Hindi daily is based, for on villagers from the Musahar community being forced to eat grass to survive the lockdown. The administration claimed that the report was “fabricated” and threatened legal action against the daily.
Four journalists from IANS and Business Insider
IANS is a news agency and the Business Insider is a news website under the Times Group. On April 13, the Bhadohi police in Uttar Pradesh an FIR against two editors and two reporters at these outlets for that a local woman had thrown her five children into a river because of lockdown-induced hunger. The police claimed the woman had done so after quarrelling with her husband. The story was published by IANS, and it was picked up by the Business Insider. The FIR only mentioned an “editor” and a “reporter” from each outlet, without naming them. No journalist from either organisation has been approached by the police so far. The four journalists have been booked under Sections 505(1)(b) and 188 of the IPC.
A journalist based out of Bihar’s Jamalpur, Chaudhary was by the local police on April 6 for allegedly spreading misinformation about a death caused by Covid-19 in the city. He was sent to a jail in Munger.
The Srinagar correspondent for the Hindu newspaper had on the burial of two slain militants in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla, but the police alleged his report was “factually incorrect”. Two FIRs were against Ashiq, one in Srinagar and the other in Anantnag, and he was questioned by the police on April 19.
The Kashmiri photojournalist was under the UAPA on April 20 for old social media posts that were deemed “anti-national” and motivated by “criminal intention to induce the youth and promote offence against public tranquillity” by the police. She was summoned to the Cyber Police station in Srinagar and questioned.
The Kashmiri journalist and author was under the UAPA as well as Section 505 of the IPC on April 21. The FIR lodged against Geelani at Srinagar’s Cyber police station accused him of “glorifying terrorism in Kashmir Valley” through social media posts.
A journalist with the English daily Kashmir Observer, based in Srinagar, Mushtaq was allegedly by Muneeb-ul-Islam, a Station House Officer in Sumbal, while he was on his way to report on the lockdown in Bandipore on April 11. Mushtaq claimed Islam slapped him multiple times and booked him under IPC sections. He remained in custody for two nights.
Two FIRs were against the founding editor of the Wire on April 1 for purportedly “disseminating fake news”. A in the news website had misquoted Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, but it had been corrected with a note before April 1. Varadarajan, who had tweeted and then corrected the quote on Twitter, was booked under Section 66D of the Information Technology Act which punishes “cheating by personation by using computer resource” and Section 188 of the IPC, among other provisions. On April 10, the Ayodhya police his Delhi home to serve him a notice.
More than 100 FIRs were filed against the editor and CEO of Republic TV and Republic Bharat news channels between April 22 and 24 after he anchored misleading shows on the Palghar lynching in Maharashtra. He moved the Supreme Court, which gave him protection from arrest for three weeks. On May 2, another FIR was filed against him in Mumbai for creating “communal disturbance” through his segment on the Bandra lockdown violation of April 29. On May 6, Goswami again moved the Supreme Court against this new FIR.
A freelance journalist based out of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Zubair was because of a tweet questioning the local administration’s quarantine policies. He was charged under several sections of the IPC as well as the Disaster Management Act.
Shivhare, who runs the news website Bastar Ki Aawaz in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh, was a showcause notice for reporting on the plight of a woman who had to sell her fridge to buy food rations. The notice denounced his reporting as “a punishable offence” and threatened him with an FIR. He was summoned by the local authorities.
An ABP News reporter based out of Maharashtra’s Osmanabad, he was by the Mumbai police for allegedly reporting that some trains had “restarted” on April 14, which purportedly prompted the lockdown violation in Bandra that day. Kulkarni claimed his report was based on a circular issued by the railways ministry. He was booked under sections of the IPC as well as the Epidemic Diseases Act, and is currently out on bail.
Ashwani Saini and Jasveer Thakur
Saini is a multimedia journalist based in Himachal Pradesh. An FIR was against him in Mandi, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur's home district, for allegedly publishing fake news about migrant labourers not getting rations. Saini accused the local authorities of trying to gag the press, saying he was simply highlighting the plight of migrant labourers because of the nationwide lockdown. He has been booked under sections of the IPC and the Disaster Management Act. On April 16, Saini, along with another journalist named Jasveer Thakur, was with three FIRs for reporting on lockdown violations at brick kilns in Mandi district. The police said Saini and Thakur were booked for trespassing and misbehaving with the labourers, based on complaints lodged by the brick kiln owners. The FIRs were filed under sections of the IPC and the Disaster Management Act.
A reporter with Hindi daily Divya Himachal, he was booked under Sections 336, 182, 188 and 269 of the IPC and Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act on March 29 for reporting on the lack of ration supply to the homeless in Solan district’s Baddi tehsil. The local police targeted a Facebook live he recorded and claimed it was false.