The Commonwealth Journalists Association calls on the government in India to withdraw the First Information Reports issued against leading editors and journalists for their coverage of the farmers’ protest in Delhi on January 26. The CJA is particularly alarmed at the use of laws pertaining to sedition and criminal conspiracy against journalists who were simply doing their job, reporting events as they happened. Many of these laws are of colonial origin and in urgent need of reform. Their use to intimidate media critical of the present government’s policies is inappropriate in modern-day India and undermines India’s commitment as a signatory of the Commonwealth Charter to uphold freedom of expression and the role of the media as a key element in democratic governance, public accountability and respect for all human rights.
The CJA is increasingly concerned at the growing use of state power in India to silence critical voices in the media and in the arts. It calls on the Government of India to repeal or amend laws which unduly restrict freedom of expression, such as laws on sedition which criminalise speech. It urges the Government to act firmly to protect those journalists who face harassment online and offline, death threats, violence and even assassination in the course of their work and to end the impunity enjoyed by their attackers. India’s reputation as the world’s largest democracy is increasingly at risk as cases of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions multiply. The CJA calls on the Indian Government to honour its international commitments to the Commonwealth and to the UN and ensure that the media is free to play its constitutional role as a guardian of the public interest and in holding elected governments to account.