The Indian government has stepped up its offensive against critical journalists and opposition politicians amid intensified protests by farmers.
Last week, Indian police opened an investigation to identify the creators and distributors of a “protest kit” shared on Twitter Wednesday (3) by activist Greta Thunberg. The kit guided how to upload hashtags and organize demonstrations for farmers.
In recent days, the government has accused journalists of criticizing crimes such as sedition and promoting enmity between groups for its coverage of the protests.
On Republic Day, January 26, farmer protests turned violent as protesters bulldozed over police barriers.
A group entered the historic Red Fort and hoisted a Sikh flag, a religious group to which most of the farmers participating in the protests belong, who hail from northern India. A farmer is dead.
Some journalists wrote or tweeted that he was the victim of a police bullet, based on photos and testimonies from people present at the scene. Authorities say he died when his tractor overturned.
These professionals, including Caravan magazine editor-in-chief Paresh Nath, one of the magazine’s editors-in-chief Anant Nath, and Siddharth Varadarajan, founder of the news portal The Wire, as well as opposition politician Shashi Taroor, were charged with crimes such as sedition, creating enmity between groups, provocation against peace, criminal conspiracy and disrespecting religious sentiments.
The crime of sedition, according to Indian law, is “to instigate hatred or contempt, by spoken or written words or signs, to generate hostility and disloyalty towards the Indian government” and provides for a fine of three years and a life sentence. . Taroor and some of the journalists took legal action to the Supreme Court asking for an end to the investigations.
Farmers began to protest in November against the reform of agricultural laws. According to them, the change will favor big companies and crush small producers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi says there is a need to increase efficiency. The protests are of concern to the government, as farmers in India are very numerous and form a powerful bloc of political pressure.
“Since the BJP came to power in 2014, the number of sedition prosecutions has exploded; this government is using sedition as a weapon to discourage journalists from investigating issues that may give the impression that the government is corrupt and inefficient, ”Sanjay Kapoor, secretary general of the Editors Guild of India, told Folha editors).
Hartosh Singh Bal, editor-in-chief of The Caravan magazine, whose editor-in-chief has been accused of sedition, reports that journalists at the publication have previously been assaulted while covering protests against Muslims and beaten in government posts. police. One of them was arrested while covering a protest and the magazine’s Twitter account was abandoned.
“In Modi’s first term, the bullying was more indirect, due to the financial pressure on vehicle owners, which led the more mainstream media to give in,” Bal told Folha. “In the second Modi government, we are witnessing a crackdown on the independent media, which continue to investigate the government and cover sensitive issues, such as Kashmir.”
According to Bal, many journalists have come to censor themselves, fearing they will be sued by the government. “Most of the media have become the propaganda arm of the government,” he says. “We stand firm, but the fear is that sooner or later the government will find new reasons to open investigations against journalists; therefore, it is very important to follow the decisions in these cases. “
In addition to prosecuting journalists, the government has cut the internet in places where protesters gather to “prevent further episodes of violence,” according to Indian officials.
The crackdown also covers social networks. Delhi Police said they identified 300 Twitter accounts that would post hateful content related to the protests. “These accounts are used by organizations and individuals who have special interests, want to spread animosity against the government,” said Praveer Ranjan, police commissioner.
The US government, no longer led by Donald Trump, who has aligned himself with Modi in right-wing populism, has supported peaceful farmer protests and called for respect for free speech.
In response, the Indian government compared the farmers’ protest on Republic Day to the invasion of the Capitol by right-wing extremists.
After police announced an investigation into the perpetrators of the “protest kit” and various social media accounts, activist Greta Thunberg posted on Twitter: “I #apoioosagricultores and their peaceful protests. Hate, threats and human rights violations will never change that ”.
Hostility towards journalists is increasing. The organization Reporters Without Borders issued an alert calling for police protection for journalist Neha Dixit, winner of the 2019 International Press Freedom Prize. She had her home broken into and received death threats.
In the press freedom ranking, India ranks 142nd out of 180 countries. Folha contacted the spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but received no response.