New Delhi: The Editors Guild of India has said there is “a growing pattern of misuse of criminal laws to intimidate journalists” in different parts of the country, which is “deeply disturbing”.
In a statement issued Wednesday, it cited the latest instances of Dhaval Patel, editor and owner of Gujarati news portal Face of Nation who was booked for “sedition” and detained by police on 11 May, and Mahender Singh Manral, special correspondent of The Indian Express who was sent a notice by the Delhi Police on 10 May.
“The government and the police must recognise that the media is an integral part of the governance structure in any democracy. The Guild condemns these actions and asks the state and central governments to desist from misusing the law to threaten the free press,” it said in the statement.
Patel was booked for publishing a report suggesting the possibility of a leadership change in Gujarat due to criticism over rising coronavirus cases. He was charged with sedition, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), and spreading false panic (Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act).
“This is a misuse of special laws, besides sedition and IPC,” the Guild stated.
It also called the Delhi Police’s action against Manral “egregious and high-handed”.
The Delhi Police had sent the notice to Manral through the City Editor and Chief Reporter of The Indian Express, requiring the journalist, who had reported that police investigations found the possibility of the audio clip of Tablighi Jamaat leader, Maulana Saad, being doctored, to join a probe on this matter on 10 May.
“While Manral wasn’t charged under any law, he was threatened that failure to join the probe could result in legal action under Section 174 of the IPC with punishment of a prison term and fine. This appears to be a little more than a fishing expedition to try and extract the journalist’s source and, thus, warn other reporters,” the Guild said.