In the last decade, 154 journalists in India were "arrested, detained, interrogated or served show cause notices for their professional work", according to a recent report by the Free Speech Collective. Of this, 40 percent of the cases, or 67 journalists, took place in 2020.
The journalists predominantly worked for non-English media houses, the report said, or were freelancers or worked with the digital media. Seventy-three of 154 the cases were reported from BJP-governed states. Uttar Pradesh topped the chart with 29 cases.
The collective, which “aims to protect the right to freedom of expression”, noted that three journalists were killed in 2020 in connection with their work: Rakesh Singh and Shubham Mani Tripathi in Uttar Pradesh, and Isravel Moses in Tamil Nadu. Other instances — such as the death of journalist Parag Bhuyan in Assam — were noted as having no clarity yet as to whether the deaths were connected to their work.
Between 2010 and May 2014, the report said, when the UPA government was in power at the centre, India reported 19 cases of journalists being arrested, detained, interrogated or served notices for their work. From 2017 onward, the numbers doubled.
Over the decade, 56 journalists were arrested who were later released on bail. At least 13 journalists obtained anticipatory bail while an equal number were detained, and 45 others had FIRs lodged against them. Only 14 journalists in the last decade managed to "fight court cases and secure their acquittals or had their cases quashed or disposed of".
The report also stated that journalists were mainly booked under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Official Secrets Act. It said: "For journalists reporting from conflict areas like Jammu and Kashmir, constant surveillance and summons from the police or administration over news reports is routine, with the unspoken threat of a case being filed if journalists continue to challenge the invisible boundaries drawn for them."
The past decade also recorded an increase in the number of physical attacks on journalists: at least 198 "serious attacks" between 2014 and 2019, with 36 cases in 2019 alone.