What the US government report says about freedom of the press in India

New Delhi: In its recent report on the state of human rights in India, the US State Department identified several instances where freedom of the press has been violated – noting that there have been instances where the government ” pressured or harassed the media” who criticized him. .

The report was released the same day the India-US 2+2 dialogue concluded and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said his country was monitoring an increase in human rights abuses in India by government officials. He made the comments at a joint press conference also attended by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Although Singh and Jaishankar did not refute Blinken that day, the foreign minister later said that India was concerned about attacks on Indians in the United States or on Indian Americans.

Rajnath Singh, S. Jaishankar, Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin after the India-US 2+2 Dialogue at the White House, Washington DC, United States on 11 April. Photo: Twitter/@DrSJaishankar

In its 2021 edition of the annual “National Human Rights Reports”, the US State Department raises concerns about violations of individual and civil liberties. The report is filed in accordance with national legislation on surveillance reporting requirements in countries receiving foreign assistance. In the India section, one of the most important sections concerns the violation of freedom of the press and the right to expression.

The report systematically lists cases where press freedom has been endangered by governmental and non-governmental actors.

He noted that while freedom of the press was generally respected, “there were instances in which the government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including by through online trolling”.

The report notes that international watchdogs, including Freedom House and Human Rights Watch, have also documented a decline in India’s enforcement of democratic rights for the media and an increase in ongoing harassment.

The State Department report observed, “Media contacts said some media outlets were practicing self-censorship in response to the government allegedly withholding public sector advertising from some outlets critical of the government.

There have also been cases, particularly in states, of journalists being killed or targeted by special interests because of their professional work, he says. In June, Shubham Mani Tripathi, journalist at the newspaper Courier Kampu, was killed by two gunmen in Uttar Pradesh, allegedly for his investigative reports on illegal sand mining. The director general of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay had also taken note of it and asked the authorities to put an end to the “armed censorship”.

Among the free speech violations noted in the US report was the arrest of comedian Munawar Faruqui and four others for allegedly offending religious feelings with jokes he did not make but planned to do.

Last May, Manipuri social activist Erendro Leichombam was arrested for a Facebook post that criticized a BJP leader who advocated cow dung and cow urine as “cures” for COVID-19. He was released on bail after his lawyers went to the Supreme Court two months later after being held under draconian national security law.

In July 2021, a Catholic priest, Father George Ponnaiah, was arrested for speaking at a prayer meeting for Father Stan Swamy, who died in prison. He was accused of “hate speech against the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior”. He was released on bail by the Madras High Court.

People hold posters and candles outside the church holding a memorial for human rights activist and Jesuit priest Father Stan Swamy, in Mumbai on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Photo: PTI/Kunal patil

In addition, the report states that government officials at local and national levels have been involved in “intimidation of critical media through physical harassment and attacks, pressure on landlords, targeting of sponsors, encouragement of lawsuits frivolous and, in some areas, the blocking of communication services, such as cell phones. and the Internet, and restricting freedom of movement”.

Here he also noted that Reporters Without Borders’ 2021 World Press Freedom Index described India as “very dangerous for journalists”.

The report documents that a series of charges were brought against India today anchor Rajdeep Sardesai; national herald consultant editor Mrinal Pande; Kaumi Awaz publisher Zafar Agha; the Caravan Founder Paresh Nath, Editor-in-Chief Anant Nath and Editor-in-Chief Vinod K. Jose; and MP Shashi Tharoor by police authorities in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Karnataka.

They had been charged with sedition for their coverage of the Farm Tractor Rally on Republic Day (26 January) 2021, when incidents of violence were reported. The Supreme Court granted them a waiver of arrest.

Also in early 2021, the government notified the IT Rules 2021 that governed social media platforms and streaming services that delivered content directly to consumers. “Human rights defenders and journalists have expressed concern that these rules would restrict freedom of speech and expression, and several media outlets have filed legal challenges against the regulations,” the report noted. US State Department.

The media groups argued that the 2021 IT Rules were unconstitutional and contrary to the standards of necessity and proportionality set by the Supreme Court in the 2018 ruling guaranteeing the right to privacy. Thread is among the organizations that challenged the rules. The Mumbai High Court has ordered a partial stay of the provisions of the IT Rules which require digital news websites to establish a three-tiered grievance redress mechanism.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, government authorities targeted media groups for reporting on negative manipulation, especially during the devastating second wave, the report said. In June, authorities in Uttar Pradesh charged Scroll editor-in-chief Supriya Sharma for a report that criticized the COVID-19 lockdown in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi constituency. She was charged under the provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Previously, Uttar Pradesh filed criminal charges against people who posted oxygen requests on social media. In April, a 26-year-old man was accused of tweeting for trying to deliver oxygen to his grandfather. The Supreme Court has warned that states should protect the right of citizens to air their grievances about the pandemic on social media.

The UP police had also filed a complaint on June 15 against Twitter; Thread, journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, Mohammad Zubair of Alt News; and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Maskoor Usmani and Sama Mohammad for “stirring up community unrest” by publishing video footage of an assault on an elderly Muslim man, the report noted.

One of the few critical voices in the Hindi language media was Dainik Bhashkar, the second most widely read Hindi-language newspaper in India. He had garnered applause for his reporting which highlighted the deliberate suppression of the death toll in the second wave, including the large number of corpses buried on the banks of the Ganges.

The Dainik Bhaskar group was raided by the income tax department in 32 locations in July last year. “Government sources claimed the raids were the result of alleged tax evasion by media groups. Media groups claimed the raids were carried out in retaliation for investigative reporting during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said.

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