The Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP) on Friday demanded that Gujarat authorities rescind the arrest warrant against senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and the Adani Group “should stop trying to intimidate journalists with legal harassment”.
The CJP’s statement comes a day after the Editors’ Guild of India also condemned the issue of a non-bailable arrest warrant for Guha Thakurta for not appearing before the court in a 2017 defamation case filed by the Adani Group. The Guild said the action against Guha Thakurta was an attempt to “muzzle free press”.
The Adani Group initiated criminal and civil defamation suits in 2017 against Guha Thakurta and two of his colleagues at the Economic and Political Weekly over an article they wrote alleging that the company had used its political influence to get favourable government policies.
Judicial Magistrate Pradeep Soni, while issuing the arrest warrant, directed the Nizamuddin police station in New Delhi to arrest the senior journalist and produce him before the court, the PTI reported.
Guha Thakurta’s lawyer Anand Yagnik told CJP that when courts re-opened in January 2021, the journalist asked that his lawyer be able to attend hearings in the criminal case in his place citing that he was 65 years old and would be at risk from Covid-19 while travelling hundreds of miles from his home in New Delhi to the court in Gujarat.
However, on January 18, the judicial magistrate refused Guha Thakurta’s request and issued a warrant for Guha Thakurta’s arrest for failing to appear in court in the criminal defamation suit. Under that warrant, the accused cannot seek bail until they are arrested.
“It is outrageous for authorities to issue arrest warrants for defendants who don’t want to risk their lives in a pandemic to attend defamation hearings,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Gujarat authorities should rescind the arrest warrant for Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and the Adani Group should immediately drop criminal proceedings and stop intimidating journalists,” she said.
The police had not arrested Guha Thakurta as of Friday, his lawyer informed CPJ. According to reports, Thakurta and his lawyer got to know about the arrest warrant through news media.
Yagnik told CPJ that Guha Thakurta has petitioned the Gujarat High Court to challenge the warrant arguing that non-bailable arrest warrants are supposed to be used as a last resort when an accused person is found skipping legal proceedings.
The article in question was taken down by the Economic and Political Weekly after a legal notice from the Adani Group, following which Thakurta resigned from the publication. The article was republished by The Wire. Further, The Wire contested the application for an injunction filed by the Adani Group. In 2019, the group withdrew all its cases against The Wire and Guha Thakurta’s colleagues. However, the it is only against him that the cases continue.