Over 3500 academicians, jurists, artists and writers have expressed their shock at the action of the UP Police under CM Yogi Adityanath in filing criminal charges against The Wire and Siddharth Varadarajan, one of its founding Editors.
The statement issued condemns the "attack on media freedom, especially during COVID-19 crisis" as it endangers not just the aspect of free speech, but also impedes the public's right to information. The signatories include former Supreme Court judge Justice (Retd.) Madan B. Lokur, former Madras High Court judge Justice (Retd.) K. Chandru, and former Patna High Court judge Justice (Retd.) Anjana Prakash.
The Chairman of Judith Neilson Institute For Journalism and Ideas Mr Jim Spigelman AC QC, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and a former chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has signed petition calling for the charges to be dropped.
Police in Uttar Pradesh have charged @thewire_in editor and JNI adviser @svaradarajan over a story criticising the Indian state's Chief Minister. The JNI Board supports #PressFreedom and has signed a petition calling for the charges to be dropped. https://t.co/leRQXFyLqo— Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism & Ideas (@JN_Institute) April 17, 2020
Police in Uttar Pradesh have charged @thewire_in editor and JNI adviser @svaradarajan over a story criticising the Indian state's Chief Minister. The JNI Board supports #PressFreedom and has signed a petition calling for the charges to be dropped. https://t.co/leRQXFyLqo
The two FIRs filed against The Wire and Varadarajan stem from an article regarding the Tablighi Jamaat and its exposure to COVID-19. The article merely pointed out that "Indian believers" were generally late to adopt precautions and avoid congregation, and recalled UP CM Yogi Adityanath's plans to proceed with a religious fair at Ayodhya, and his flouting of the national lockdown by taking part in a religious ceremony on March 25th.
The FIRs were filed on April 1st, based on a complaint by a resident of Ayodhya and SHO of the Kotwali Nagar Police Station, Faizabad. "A plain reading of the sections invoked in the FIRs makes it clear that they cannot apply to the article in question. The FIRs were followed up with a gross display of intimidation on April 10 when policemen arrived in a black SUV with no number plates at Varadarajan's residence in Delhi to issue a legal notice ordering him to appear in Ayodhya on April 14 at 10am". The statement highlights the misplaced priorities of the UP Police by underlining their decision to drive across 700 kilometres during the lockdown to issue the summons, despite the postal system being operational. The statement also brings to the fore the aspect that police action against The Wire comes against the backdrop of demonization of Muslims as being responsible for the spread of the virus by a section of the media.
"The Wire, along with other independent media and journalists, has been courageous and consistent in continuing to present the facts. The UP police action is just the latest in a series of attempts by the ruling establishment, or persons close to them, to entangle The Wire and its editors in legal cases in an effort to shut them down."
In conclusion, the statement asserts that the following action should be taken: "1. Call upon the Government of Uttar Pradesh to withdraw the FIR against Siddharth Varadarajan and The Wire, and drop all criminal proceedings.
2. We urge the Government of India and all state governments not to use the pandemic as a cover to trample upon media freedom. A medical emergency should not serve as the pretext for the imposition of a de facto political emergency.
3. We call upon the Indian media to not communalise the pandemic."
Click Here To Download Statement