The Editors Guild of India on Wednesday condemned the slapping of sedition charges on an editor of a Gujarati news portal and an English Daily journalist being asked by the Delhi Police to join the probe into Tablighi Jamaat leader Maulana Saad's audio clip, saying the state and central governments should desist from misusing the law to threaten free press.
In a statement, the Guild said it notes with concern a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country.
The Guild first highlighted the incident of Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of a Gujarati news portal, 'Face of Nation', being booked for sedition and detained by the state police on May 11 for publishing a report suggesting the possibility of a leadership change in the state due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases.
Patel was charged with sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and with spreading false panic under Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act (DMA).
This is a misuse of special laws, besides sedition and IPC, the Guild said.
The second instance of "egregious and high-handed action" has come from Delhi Police, it said.
"On May 10, the Delhi Police sent a notice to Mahender Singh Manral, Special Correspondent, The Indian Express, through the City Editor and Chief Reporter, The Indian Express, requiring the journalist, who had reported that police investigations found the possibility of the audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader, Maulana Saad, being doctored, to join a probe on this matter on May 10," the statement said.
"While Manral wasn't charged under any law, he was threatened that failure to join the probe could result in legal action under Section 174 of the IPC with punishment of a prison term and fine," it said.
The Guild said this appears to be a little more than a fishing expedition to try and extract the journalist's source and, thus, warn other reporters.
Asserting that these instances of police action in Gujarat and Delhi are deeply disturbing, the Guild said the government and the police must recognise that the media is an integral part of the governance structure in any democracy.
The Guild condemns these actions and asks the state and central governments to desist from misusing the law to threaten the free press, the statement said.
The Press Club of India (PCI) also hit out at the Delhi Police's action in the incident involving The Indian Express journalist.
"We stand in solidarity with our journalist colleague and urge a consolidation of support from the media and the general public on this vital issue," it said.