The Editors Guild of India has expressed its concern over growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists in different parts of the country.
Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of a Gujarati news portal, ‘Face of Nation’, was 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 second instance of egregious and high-handed action has come from Delhi Police. 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.
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. Editor’s guild has noted that the same appears to be a little more than a fishing expedition to try and extract the journalist’s source and, thus, warn other reporters.
“These instances of police action in Gujarat and Delhi are deeply disturbing. 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” noted the statement issued by the guild.