New Delhi: After Editors’ Guild of India, more journalists’ organisations and groups have welcomed the Supreme Court of India’s verdict on the sedition case against veteran journalist Vinod Dua upholding a citizen’s “right to criticise or comment upon the measures undertaken by a government”.
On Friday, the National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ), the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and the Indian Women’s Press Corps (IWPC) came out with statements hailing the Supreme Court’s verdict.
The NAJ and DUJ, while welcoming two recent Supreme Court orders critiquing the filing of sedition cases against the media, said the quashing of the sedition FIR against Dua with “the observation that “Every journalist will be entitled to the protection under Kedar Nath Singh (sedition) judgement...” was a “major relief” for the profession.
On May 31, 2021 the Supreme Court had also ordered the Andhra Pradesh police not to take coercive action against two Telugu channels charged with sedition, observing that the law needs interpretation. The case is ongoing.
In a joint statement, NAJ and DUJ also appealed to the Supreme Court “to strike down the outmoded sedition law and review other sections of the law that are being misused to muzzle free speech and expression.”
“…too many such cases have been filed against journalists and other citizens, often by vindictive government authorities at district and state levels who have been called out for corruption or deficient services or discrimination. Political opponents too have been victimised through such cases. The National Crime Records Bureau reports that between 2016 and 2019, there was a 160 per cent increase in filing of sedition charges. Yet only 3.3 per cent have been convicted. Of the 96 people charged in 2019, only two could be convicted,” said the statement.
Citing the case of incarcerated journalist Siddique Kappan, the NAJ and DUJ pointed out that journalists were “still vulnerable to vexatious and vindictive prosecution by political authorities. The over-broad powers given under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act are a clear and present threat to journalistic freedom. A case in point is Siddique Kappan, who works with a number of news organisations and is secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists(Delhi Unit), arrested by the police while on his way to Hathras early in October, to report on the death after alleged sexual assault, of a young girl of the Dalit community. Charged with sedition and other offences, including under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, his detention could potentially be prolonged indefinitely.”
In a separate statement, the IWPC, while welcoming the verdict, expressed dismay at the “growing trend in India in recent times where both Central and state governments have routinely slapped Sedition charges on journalists for articles, tweets, Facebook posts that criticise government policies, actions of their functionaries and shortcomings in governance.”
Noting that these charges are most often slapped to harass journalists, the IWPC said it hoped the Central and state governments will now refrain from using such means as an attempt to silence the media. “We also hope that this judgment will provide immediate relief to journalists who are in jail under Sedition charges,” the statement added.
It cited the case of IWPC founder member Mrinal Pande and some other journalists who were booked for sedition for tweets relating to farmers' protest, as also Kerala Union of Working Journalists' office bearer Siddique Kappan, who has been in jail facing sedition and other charges like UAPA since October 2020.
The Press Association also issued a statement saying it appreciates the Supreme Court's concerns over "the chilling effect" that sedition laws have on free media and our democracy.
"The apex court not only just quashed the criminal complaint against Dua but has also underlined the importance of protecting journalists from sedition cases. The apex court also made it amply clear that a journalist cannot be arrested just because he/she has criticised the government," it added.