Reports

With 14 mediapersons in custody in India, whither free speech?

The arrest of journalist and co-founder of the fact-checker site Altnews, Mohamed Zubair, on Monday, 27 June 2022, barely a day after the arrest of journalist and anti-communalism activist Teesta Setalvad, is a chilling indicator of the state of free speech in India. Till date, at least nine journalists have been arrested in 2022, while 22 journalists (and one student writer and a media worker) were arrested in 2021. In all, 14 media persons are currently behind bars in India.

(Update: With the arrest of Rupesh Kumar Singh under UAPA in Jharkhand on July 17, 2022, the total number of mediapersons in custody goes to 14).

AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair and Sabrang Editor Teesta Setalvad

(See: Journalism Is Not A Crime…so why are they still in jail?)

Setalvad was detained by the Gujarat ATS and taken from her residence in Mumbai to Ahmedabad, a day after the Supreme Court order on the Zakia Jafri case and barely three hours after an interview by Union Home Minister Amit Shah to a news agency, naming her for her role in what he termed a campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the latter’s role, as then Chief Minister, in dealing with the 2002 violence in Gujarat in 2002. Setalvad is currently in police custody in Ahmedabad.

Questions have been raised over the alacrity with which Delhi police moved to arrest Zubair, for an allegedly offensive tweet on a complaint filed by a Twitter account holder with negligible followers. The action against Zubair comes in the wake of his tweet drawing attention to the hate speech of then BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma on television channel Times Now, on May 26, 2022. Sharma was suspended from the BJP, on June 5, 2022, while BJP media head Naveen Jindal was expelled. Several FIRs have been registered against her but she has not been arrested. The twitter account that police acted upon to register the FIR against Zubair has since been deleted. 

The arrest of Teesta Setalvad and Mohammed Zubair takes the total number of mediapersons currently in custody in India to 13, including eight journalists, one student writer, an author, a columnist and two journalist-activists.

“Behind Bars: Arrests and Detentions of Journalists in India 2010-2020’, Free Speech Collective’s study of a decade of arrests of journalists between 2010-2020 revealed that 154 journalists in India were arrested, detained, interrogated or served show cause notices for their professional work in this period. A little over 40 per cent of these instances were in 2020. In the decade under study, at least nine foreign journalists faced deportation, arrest, interrogations or were denied entry into India.

Here is the list of journalists arrested in India in 2022, till date (scroll down for list of journalists arrested in 2021):  

2022 : Eight mediapersons arrested

  1. 14 Feb 2022:     Fahad Shah, the editor-in-chief of the online news magazine,     ‘thekashmirwalla’, was arrested by the Jammu and Kashmir police on 14 February 2022. He was granted bail on February 26, 12 days after his arrest. He was rearrested in connection with a separate case registered in January 2021 by the Jammu and Kashmir, when the bail was granted. He was granted bail in the new case on March 7, 2022. The same day, he was for the third time in connection with a case pertaining to his magazine’s reporting of an encounter in the city in May 2020. He remains behind bars.
  2. 15 Mar 2022: Gaurav Bansal, a reporter with Hindi daily Punjab Kesari was arrested on 15 March on charges of misbehaving with police officers on 8 March outside an election counting centre in Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Bansal had earlier shot and shared videos, where he alleged that Electronic Voting Machines were being tampered with. Bansal has accused the Uttar Pradesh police of custodial torturing. His allegations have been denied by the police.
  3. 30 Mar 2022: Ajit Ojha and Digvijay Singh, journalists associated with the Hindi  daily Amar Ujala, and Manoj Gupta of Rashtriya Sahara, were arrested on 30 March for their reporting on the leak of a Class 12 ‘English’ exam, scheduled to take place the same day. They were granted bail on 26 April 2022, as the police were unable to produce any evidence against them to prove their involvement in the paper leak.
  4. 17 Apr 2022:     Abdul Aala Fazili, a PhD student at the University of Kashmir, was     arrested by the State Investigation Agency (SIA) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police following a raid at his residence in Srinagar. He was charged for published an article article headlined ‘The     Shackles of Slavery Will Break,’ dated 6 November 2011 published in The Kashmirwalla.
  5. 20 June 2022: Four journalists covering the Agnipath protests in Patna were detained by police after one of them, Amir Hamza, was roughed up and shoved by a police officer. Hamza, a journalist working with a newschannel on Youtube ‘The Activist’, was arrested on charges (u/s 353 of the Indian Penal Code) of obstructing a police officer on duty.
  6. 26 Jun 2022: Teesta Setalvad, journalist, co-editor of anti-communalism portal Sabrang and a human rights activist was arrested in Ahmedabad by the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Gujarat police on charges of alleged forgery and conspiracy, following the Supreme Court judgement in the Zakia Jafri case. A day earlier, an ATS team forcibly entered her residence in Mumbai, Maharashtra, detained her without a warrant and took her to Ahmedabad. She was produced before a magistrate and     remanded to police custody till 2 July.
  7. 27 Jun 2022: Mohammed Zubair, journalist and co-founder of Alt-News, a fact-check website was arrested by the Delhi Police on charges of posting an allegedly objectionable tweet. He was picked up from his residence in Bengaluru and brought to Delhi ostensibly to join investigation based on a complaint filed in 2020. He was remanded to a day’s police custody which was extended to five days and taken back to Bengaluru to enable police to examine his mobile phone and laptop.
  8. July 7, 2022: Noida police detained Zee News anchor Rohit Ranjan in connection with a case filed against two of his colleagues for the alleged doctoring of a video featuring Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Earlier in the day, Chhattisgarh Police had arrived at his house with a court warrant for arrest, based on a complaint by Congress MLA from Bhilai, Devendra Yadav. The complainant alleged that the channel “edited the clip and ran a false” report to “spread terrorism and break the nation’s unity”. However, with the intervention of UP police, Ranjan was taken in for questioning by Noida police. In Jaipur, an FIR was registered against him as the channel aired a statement of Gandhi on the SFI violence on his Wayanad office and mischievously doctored it to make it seem like it was a comment on the heinous murder of Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur.
  9. July 17, 2022: Jharkhand Police arrested independent journalist Rupesh Kumar Singh. He was charged him under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) as well as the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

List of Journalists arrested in India in 2021 : 24 journalists detained, arrested

  1. 17 Jan 2021: Sadokpam Diren, Aribam Dhananjoy, also known as Paojel Chaoba, and M. Joy Luwang, editor-in-chief, executive editor and writer respectively at ‘The Frontier Manipur’ website were charged with sedition.
  2. 30 Jan 2021: Dharmender Singh, a reporter with Online News India, was picked up by Delhi Police from the Singhu border while he was covering the farmers’ struggle even though he showed them his press card
  3. 31 Jan 2021: Mandeep Punia was arrested by the Delhi Police at the Singhu border while he was covering the farmers’ struggle. He was allegedly beaten brutally by the police and released on bail three days later.
  4. 21 Jun 2021: Pranjal Pandey and Prabir Purkayastha editor and editor-in-chief of Newsclick respectively were questioned about their tax filings, transactions, contracts and syndicated content by India’s Income Tax Department. The Delhi High Court on 21 June the Enforcement Directorate not to take coercive action against the     news portal and its editor-in-chief in connection with the money laundering case. On July 7, the court had granted interim protection from arrest to Purkayastha and Pandey while directing them to join the investigation.
  5. 1 Jul 2021: Rajeev Sharma, a freelance journalist, was arrested by the Directorate of Enforcement of the Indian Ministry of Finance, on allegations of money laundering. He was previously arrested by the Delhi Police in September 2019 on allegations of espionage on behalf of the Chinese     government.
  6. 22 Jul 2021: Tanveer Warsi was arrested in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, . He is the editor of Prabhat Sanket, a privately owned Hindi-language newspaper based in Rajgarh district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, and a regular freelance contributor to the privately-owned news channel NDTV and news agency Asian News International. Rajgarh district authorities allege that Warsi illegally ran a daily newspaper without government approval, and also committed other crimes.
  7. 25 Aug 2021: Shristhi Jatav of Dalit Times was detained by the Delhi Police while she was covering the demolition of a slum. Video footage of her reporting was deleted. She was released after three     hours.
  8. 8 Sept 2021: Showkat Motta, Hilal Mir, Azhar Qadri, and Abbas Shah, editor of Kashmir Narrator and freelance journalists associated with foreign publications respectively saw their houses being raided early in the morning by the Jammu and Kashmir police. They were subsequently detained in Srinagar and were freed in the night. Their documents and electronic equipment belonging to their immediate families were also seized by the authorities.
  9. 17 Sept 2021: Sandeep Sharma and Sunil Brar editor and reporter respectively at the Dainik Bhaskar were arrested by the Haryana police for a ‘factual error’ while reporting on a suspected terrorist’s arrest  They were granted bail a day later as the Ambala district magistrate said there was nothing in the report that could create enmity between classes.
  10. 8 Oct 2021: Suhail Dar, a Jammu and Kashmir-based freelance journalist with local publications  was summoned by the local police on the evening of 8 October 2021 and arrested later that evening on charges disturbing public peace and knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse under sections 107 and 151 of the Indian Penal Code. He was moved to Anantnag Jail on October 14, 2021.
  11. 10 Oct 2021: Manan Gulzar Dar, a freelance photojournalist, was arrested by India’s National Investigation Agency, which accused him of working with terrorist organizations. Dar has covered news and conflict in Jammu and Kashmir and has contributed to Getty Images and the Pacific Press international photo agency.
  12. 12 Oct 2021: Salman Shah, editor of Kashmir First, was detained after a raid of his residence on the night of 12 October. Shah is accused of disturbing public peace and knowingly joining or continuing in assembly of five or more persons after it has been commanded to disperse under sections 107 and 151 of the Indian Penal Code. He was moved to Anantnag Jail on October 14, 2021.
  13. 13 Oct 2021: Mukhtar Zahoor, a freelance photojournalist with the BBC was detained by armed officials and the Jammu and Kashmir Police in a midnight raid at his residence in Srinagar. He was questioned overnight and released on October 14 at around 2pm.
  14. 25 Oct 2021: Madhukar Dubey and Avinash Palliwar, journalist, owner of Chhattisgarh-based web-portal zeroparty.in, and the portal’s technical assistant respectively, were arrested by police for their report on local political leaders. Dubey was granted bail by the Chhattisgarh High Court on January 14, 2022.
  15. 14 Nov 2021: Samriddhi K Sakunia and Swarna Jha of HW News were arrested by Tripura police after being detained by the Assam police. They were reporting on the vandalism in mosques and attacks on Muslims by Hindu right-wing elements in Tripura. They managed to get bail on 15 Nov 15 2021.

For list of journalists arrested in India between 2010-20, please download the report : 

“Behind Bars: Arrests and Detentions of Journalists in India 2010-2020’,

Categories: Reports, Spotlight

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