The arrest of Arnab Goswami in connection with a suicide abetment case had some ministers calling it a repeat of the 1975 Emergency.
Back in June, Supriya Sharma, Executive Editor of Scroll, was booked over a report published from Varanasi’s Domari, a village adopted by PM Modi. While the FIR has been registered for ‘false reporting’, Sharma has issued a statement saying that she stands by her reportage.
While this brought into attention, the plight of journalists who continue to get booked or arrested in India, as the country continues to slide dangerously down the slippery slope of Press Freedom Index, do these arrests not seem like a repeat of the 1975 Emergency?
1. Days after students at a government school in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Mirzapur district were filmed eating rotis with salt as their mid-day meal under a flagship scheme of the central government, a case was filed against Pawan Jaiswal, the journalist who had shot the video. He was later given a clean chit by the cops.
2. Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, founder and chief executive of SimpliCity, had been arrested on the 23rd of April after the website reported on the challenges faced by healthcare workers battling the coronavirus. He was also booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Epidemic Diseases Act. A Judicial Magistrate Court in Coimbatore granted him bail a few days later.
3. Ashwini Saini, a freelancer for Dainik Jagran, had filed a video report highlighting workers who related their plight to the lockdown and lack of rations on camera on the 8th of April. An FIR was filed against Saini under the Disaster Management Act, accusing him of spreading ‘fake news’.
Three more FIRs were filed against him after he wrote a letter to PM Modi about ‘gagging’ the press. On 13th April, Saini filed another report forcing the police to shut the brick kilns operating without lockdown guidelines but also booked Saini under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.
4. Earlier this year in April, the Lucknow city police had lodged an FIR against Prashant Kanojia for alleged ‘objectionable remarks’ about PM Modi and UP CM Yogi Adityanath on social media. Earlier in June of 2019, he had been arrested by the Lucknow police for social media posts on the UP CM.
5. In April, photojournalist Masrat Zahra had been booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for indulging in ‘anti-national activities’ on social media.
Zahra who has mostly reported about women and children in conflict and has been published in The Washington Post, The New Humanitarian, TRT World, Al Jazeera, The Caravan and others was booked as her ‘photographs could provoke the public to disturb law and order.’
6. Dhaval Patel, an editor of the Face of the Nation, was arrested after an article speculating that Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani could be replaced with Mansukh Mandviya, Union Minister of Shipping. Patel was booked under section 45 of Disaster Management Act, 2005 and section 124 A of Indian Penal Code (IPC). He was later granted bail by a court in Ahmedabad.
7. Zubair Ahmed, a freelance journalist, was charged with multiple offences with the police accusing him of spreading false information for posting a tweet questioning why families were placed under home quarantine for merely speaking over the phone with coronavirus patients. Ahmed was later granted bail.
8. In May, the Supreme Court had to step in and stop West Bengal Police from arresting 5 journalists who had been booked in as many cases after they had conducted a sting operation to show state ministers and TMC MLAs allegedly taking bribes.
9. In April 2020, UP Police had registered an FIR against The Wire and its editor Siddharth Varadarajan for reporting that Adityanath had attended a public religious event on 25th of March after the PM Modi had announced a national lockdown. The Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court on Friday later granted anticipatory bail to Varadarajan.
10. Three FIRs were registered against Jagat Bains, a reporter with News18 Himachal, for his reporting on COVID-19-related issues which included denial of ration to the migrant workers. The report seemed to have an impact as the district administration supplied ration the very next day but the scribe was also booked under Sections 188, 269 and 270 of the IPC. He was also granted bail.
According to The Wire, 55 journalists have been arrested, booked, or/and threatened for just reporting on COVID-19. So, this list is a mere speck of dust compared to the actual number of journalists who have been and continue to be punished by the authorities for doing their jobs.