The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) on Monday urged the Indian government to honour its international commitments to the Commonwealth and the United Nations 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 CJA, a 43-year-old organisation advocating press freedom, called on the relevant authorities to withdraw the First Information Reports (FIRs) 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, reads the CJA statement.
The CJA 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, it adds.
The statement is the latest from journalists' groups after farmers' protests in Delhi turned violent on the Republic Day when protesters broke into the Red Fort complex resulting in one death and hundreds of injuries.
Journalists are among those arrested or facing charges in relation to the protests against the government's proposed agricultural reforms. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor and the six journalists — Mrinal Pande, Rajdeep Sardesai, Vinod Jose, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath and Anant Nath — have been booked by police, including in BJP-ruled states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, over their allegedly misleading tweets on the violence during the farmers' tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day.
Freelance journalist Mandeep Punia and Dharmender Singh (with Online News India) were detained by Delhi Police Sunday evening for allegedly misbehaving with personnel on duty. While Singh was later released, the police arrested Punia on Sunday.