Govt must withdraw cases against journalists

A total of three sedition cases have been filed across three BJP-ruled states against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s senior consulting editor Mrinal Pande, Qaumi Awaz editor Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine’s editor and founder Paresh Nath, The Caravan editor Anant Nath and its executive editor Vinod K. Jose, and one unnamed person for sharing “unverified” news during the farmers’ tractor rally in Delhi on January 26. Registering a case, police have stated that the accused persons have “instigated violence” on January 26 through their posts on social media. It also said that despite the large-scale attack on the police causing injuries to hundreds of policemen, the accused persons circulated fake news in a coordinated and well-planned manner alleging that the police have shot a person dead. It was later found that the farmer Navneet Singh died of a head injury suffered when his tractor toppled sideways. However, Sardesai, later, deleted his tweet and mentioned on air that the farmer had been killed in an accident after his tractor overturned.
According to sources; India today has taken senior anchor and consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai off the air for two weeks for a tweet saying that the farmer who was killed during a tractor rally on Republic Day had died in police firing. The Channel has also deducted a month’s salary from the anchor. The Editors Guild of India strongly condemns the intimidating manner in the way in which the Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh Police have registered FIRs against senior editors and journalists. The press body called this an attempt to “harass, browbeat and stifle” the media. That fact the FIRs have been booked under as many as ten different provisions including sedition laws, promoting communal disharmony, and insulting religious beliefs were further disturbing.
The press has stood tall alongside the organs of the Indian state in discharging its duties. Likening its watchdog duties to sedition betrays a crooked view of democracy. While the private complainants are entitled to their opinion, the UP and MP governments, which surely understand the critical role of a free press in invigorating democratic institutions, must withdraw these cases lodged overzealously by police. Additionally, Supreme Court must also take cognizance of how its guidelines narrowing the applicability of sedition have fallen on deaf ears.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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