Journalists’ bodies – including DIGIPUB News India Foundation (DNIF) and the Editors Guild of India (EGI) – have condemned the arrest warrant issued by a court in Gujarat for senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta for the alleged defamation of the Adani Group in an article co-authored by the journalist in in 2017.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the DNIF said that the Adani group had “pursued this matter against Paranjoy Thakurta relentlessly. DIGIPUB News India Foundation calls upon the Adani group to desist from such intimidation of a journalist who is doing his job. The article is a piece of journalism and cases being filed against Thakurta for it undermines the right to freedom of expression that’s guaranteed to journalists – and indeed every citizen – by India’s Constitution.”
The body mentioned that any such “attempt” to “suppress or punish critical journalism by governments or corporations is detrimental to not only the freedom of the press but also the very idea of democratic accountability.” It added that at a time when democratic values are faced with challenges all over the world, it was necessary to “strengthen, not assault press freedom that is often celebrated as the fourth pillar of democracy.”
“We condemn such hounding of journalism by the Adani group and ask for the withdrawal of these cases so that he can pursue his professional work as a journalist without fear.” it added.
The Editors Guild of India also condemned the arrest warrant against the journalist, calling it the “use of intimidatory tactics by powerful corporate houses against journalists to prevent media scrutiny.”
“The issue of a non-bailable warrant by a lower court against Mr. Thakurta is another example of how intolerant the business houses have become to any criticism,” it added.
The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement on the arrest warrant against senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, issued by a lower court in Gujarat in a criminal defamation case filed by the Adani group in 2017. pic.twitter.com/nF08koHs2h
— Editors Guild of India (@IndEditorsGuild) January 21, 2021
The EGI also mentioned that it was “disturbed” about “how the judiciary in this case has become a part of this exercise to muzzle free press. Criminal defamation laws are often used by those in power to suppress any scrutiny by the media, and this case is a prime example of how such laws can be misused against the cause of free and independent media,” the statement added.
The article in question was published by the Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) in 2017. It had alleged that the Centre had tweaked rules of the Special Economic Zone which “enabled a company in the Adani Group to reap a bonanza of around Rs 500 crore.”
The Adani Group subsequently sent a notice to the publisher and threatened legal action. Following the threat, the Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the EPW withdrew the piece and Thakurta had resigned in protest.
The article was later republished by The Wire in June 2017, following which the Adani Group “then filed a SLAPP suit on The Wire and the co-authors of the article.” In May 2019, however, a court in Gujarat ordered that a sentence and a word from the piece be removed.
On Tuesday, a court in Gujarat’s Mundra in Kutch district issued an arrest warrant against Guha Thakurta in the defamation suit filed by the Adani Group. “...accused stands charged with complaint under section 500 of IPC. You are hereby directed to arrest the said accused and to produce him before me,” Judicial Magistrate Pradeep Soni said in a direction to the Nizamuddin police station in New Delhi.
On Wednesday, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) registered its “shock” and condemned the warrant for Thakurta. The DUJ said that while the Adani Group had “ironically” withdrawn the charges against the publishers of the piece and its co-authors, it had chosen to retain them in Guha Thakurta’s case.