The Mumbai Press Club condemns the filing of multiple FIRs against journalists and publishers that include Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Vinod Jose, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath. The FIRs have been filed in Delhi as well as in some BJP-ruled states including MP and Uttar Pradesh, and are based on the coverage and comments the journalists made in respect of the farmers protest rally in the capital on 26th January. The Mumbai Press Club demands the immediate withdrawal of these FIRs against the 6 journalists, and calls upon the Union government to stop using coercive and threatening practices, like filing of cases under the UAPA Act, pressing charges of sedition, etc against newspapers and journalists.
The events that took place around the farmer’s rally on Republic Day was chaotic and information was not easily available. There was clear intelligence lapse on the part of the Delhi Police, which had lost control of the situation. In these circumstances, to pin blame on the journalists for being responsible for the violence and disruption is reprehensible. Worse still is the attempt of the Police to stick sedition charges on the journalists using archaic laws? It shows the growing intolerance of the Union government against those who do not toe the line of the ruling establishment.
The Mumbai Press Club sees the filing of these FIRs as part of a dangerous trend in the country against the Fourth Estate which seeks to demonize, and then neutralize, those who cover events and issues that are not in sync with the government’s policies. This was highlighted recently by the arrest of Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) office-bearer Siddique Kappan by the UP Police under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Besides the harassment and attacks these journalists face, they are further demonized by being portrayed as ‘anti-nationals’, ‘terrorists’ etc.
A vibrant democracy requires a vibrant Fourth Estate that is allowed to function without fear or favour. FIRs, incarceration and using the heavy hand of the police against journalists show not only that the government is antipathy to a free press; but it also snuffs out information chains and contrarian views without which no mature civil society can function.