CJA backs editors over colonial-era laws

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.  

* The Indian government has reacted strongly to reports of intimidation of academics and journalists and moves against expressions of dissent in the media. A statement by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said the Indian Constitution provided for freedom of expression under Article 19. “Discussion, debate and dissent is part of Indian democracy. The Government of India attaches highest importance to the safety and security of all residents of the country, including journalists. The Government has issued a special advisory to States and Union Territories on safety of journalists requesting them to strictly enforce the law to ensure safety and security of media persons,” the statement said.