Journalists and activists in India are facing threats of physical violence, and vicious and abusive online attacks – especially on social media – perhaps, on a regular basis. On June 10, senior journalist Nidhi Razdan, who works with NDTV,took to Twitter to inform her followers that she has received a death threat on the social media platform Instagram. Her tweet read:
“I got a death threat on @instagram via a pvt msg: “I will hang you, I will execute you.” I reported the account to @instagram. They replied that it does not violate their guidelines. Shame on you @instagram. Am deleting the account. And yes, I’m filing an FIR.”
Razdan is one of the several journalists to receive a death threat in the past two months.
The trend of online and offline death threats and abuses has witnessed a sudden surge after the Narendra Modi-led BJP came to power in 2014. As per a report released by The Hooton May 2, press freedom in India has worsened in 2018 with the killing of three journalists in the first four months. According to the World Press Freedom Index report 2018, India ranks 138th among 180 countries, while in 2017, the country’s rank was 136th and 133rd in 2016. And this is not just limited to journalists, even activists are being routinely abused and threatened.
In a span of two months (May and June), six persons, including fourjournalists and twoactivists have received death threats. On June 8, Dalit activist and Independent MLA from Gujarat Jignesh Mevani had received death threats from a person, who identified himself as a fugitive gangster Ravi Pujari. This was the third death threat Mevani had received. The Dalit activist took to Twitter to divulge information about the threat:
“Day 3, threat call continues from Ravi Pujari. Today again I received a threat call on my original number from a person introducing himself as Ravi Pujari from Australia and also a text saying - “Stop giving provocative speeches or will shot you. Umar Khalid is also on the list.””
A complaint has been lodged about the first threat call received by Mevani on June 6. The police maintains that they are lookimg into the matter. Meanhwile, the student leader Umar Khalid has also approached the police station and has filed a complaint regarding the threat. He has also asked for police protection given that the same person had issued similar threats in February 2016.
“I am a human. When the threat comes, I don’t feel nice, but what is scary is the brazenness with which these death threats are becoming common to anyone who speaks out against the current regime. In the past, it happened with Ravish Kumar and many other journalists. We know what happened with Gauri Lankesh. It’s becoming a pattern and that is what is dangerous. There are attempts to throttle voices of defence and this needs to be condemned,” Khalid told Newsclick.
Apart from this, three noted journalists – Ravish Kumar, Rana Ayyub and Barkha Dutt –have received threats and abuses. All these journalists have been vocal against the politics of the current regime. Even in the case of journalist Rana Ayyub, who is also the author of Gujarat Files,UN human rights experts had put pressure on the authorities in India to protect her.
A smear campaign has been run online against the renowned journalist Ravish Kumar. The senior journalist alleges that he has been receiving death threats since 2015, but the number of threats have increased in the past few months. “At the time when I was not going to office in April, I started getting thousands of calls on my phone. When I used to block one number. I got calls from other numbers and the kind of language used by them was derogatory,” Ravish Kumar told NDTV.
According to the investigation revealed by The Hoot, “politicians, businessmen, members of Hindu right wing groups, police and paramilitary forces, government agencies like the film certification board, the Information and Broadcasting ministry, state governments, lawyers and even media groups had acted to undermine the freedom of expression.”
In an interview with Newsclick, Dutt had revealed that she has been receiving threats from the very powerful people from the ruling party. However, she maintains that there was no direct threat by them but were indirect attempts to intimidate her. “How do you lodge an FIR against insidious intimidation, which is effectively about using instruments of power to create a coercive environment of fear?” she questioned.