Several media outlets have condemned the police in northern Uttar Pradesh for presenting cases against journalists and a news portal for their tweets and reports about the attack on a former Muslim man at the beginning of in months.
In separate statements, the press bodies demanded an immediate release of the first news reports (FIR) against three journalists – Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Zubair Ahmed – and the news website The Wire.
On Thursday, police also summoned India’s top Twitter official to respond to allegations that it did not prevent a video of the attack from going viral, accusing the social media company of spreading “hate and enmity”.
Three members of the opposition Congress party – all Muslims – were also booked for their tweets about the incident.
What happened in Ghaziabad?
On June 5, Abdul Samad Saifi, a 72-year-old resident in Ghaziabad of Uttar Pradesh, an industrial city on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi, was allegedly offered to drive an autoshaw by some men, taken to an isolated place. and presumably beaten for hours while lying on a bed, tormented by pain.
The men were allegedly forced to sing Jai Shri Ram (greetings Lord Ram) and Vande Mataram (praise you, mother), who are gathering appeals for Hindu far-right groups, which enjoy the patronage of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP) and often target the Muslim minority of India.
In a two-minute video clip that has been widely shared on social media, you can also see men cutting the old man’s beard with scissors.
In his FIR, Ghaziabad Police said the attack on Samad was an interpersonal issue and the accused had beaten him because he had given him a taveez (amulet).
– U filu (@thewire_in) June 16, 2021
But Uttar Pradesh police have denied the attack was motivated by religious hatred and said Saifi was beaten because she had sold the men an amulet that was not working.
Saifi’s family has disputed the police claim and says it was a hate attack.
A police officer in Ghaziabad, on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera on Friday that nine people, including some Muslims, had been arrested as police searched for two more suspects.
In their report, police also said that Naqvi, Ayyub and Zubair circulated the video of the incident on their Twitter handles “without verifying and investigating its veracity”.
Police said the journalists “gave the video a communal angle” and “intended to incite communal hatred between religious communities and wanted to disrupt public order.”
It seems that Ghaziabad police are investigating the case of the old Muslim man and have presented a different version. My comment on Twitter was based on a newspaper report. I will wait for the investigation to be completed before further comment.
– Saba Naqvi (@_sabanaqvi) June 16, 2021
In response, Ayyub, Naqvi and Zubair, in separate tweets, said their statements about the incident were based on viral video and news reports presented by several journalists.
Naqvi said Ghaziabad police had “presented a different version” and that they would “wait for the investigation to be finished before commenting further.”
In a similar way, Ayyub said she would wait for “the truth to prevail.”
“Wanton’s use of laws to criminalize reporting”
But police action against journalists – all Muslims – has shocked the press bodies around the world, who have demanded an immediate withdrawal of the FIRs against them.
In a statement Thursday, the Editors Guild of India (EGI) said it “condemns the filing of FIRs by the Uttar Pradesh government against The Wire and several journalists” for its tweets about the assault of June 5th.
The EGI said the police case against journalists was a “voluntary use of laws to criminalize reporting and dissent to harass the independent media.”
“The Guild is deeply concerned about the UP [Uttar Pradesh] police records filing FIR against journalists for dissuading them from reporting serious incidents without fear of reprisals, ”he said.
1/2 The tweets I shared earlier about the attack on Abdul were based on a video and various reports, published by print and electronic media including the Indian Express that were already in wide circulation. In view of the flicks that investigate the material they support
– Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) June 16, 2021
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, non-profit organization that promotes press freedom around the world, said Thursday that Uttar Pradesh police must “immediately withdraw their complaint” and stop of “harassing” journalists and press journals.
“Indian authorities have selected journalists, some of whom are known for critical coverage of the Bharatiya Janata party, for sharing and commenting on a video, it looks suspiciously like the application of selective and equivalent law to a serious attack on press freedom, ”said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia Program Coordinator.
The International Press Institute (IPI) – a global network of editors, journalists and media leaders defending press freedom – while demanding the withdrawal of the FIR said it “covers and shares information on the press. events are not a crime. ”
The International Media Foundation for Women said journalists “should be able to do their job without fear of vengeance on authority.”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), another global nonprofit organization with the stated aim of safeguarding the right to freedom of information, have also called on Uttar Pradesh police to immediately drop the “absurd” allegations. , including “criminal conspiracy,” which led to three journalists for tweeting about the video.
#India 🇮🇳: @RSF_inter asks that @ghaziabadpolice withdraws the absurd criminal charges filed against him @AltNews co-founder @francescu_sq, @sofia_viscardi columnist @RanaAyyub, writer @_sabanaqvi and news site @Corse_Matin. This annoyance should end right away!https://t.co/GO9OjgQL5G
– RSF (@RSF_inter) June 17, 2021
RSF said that, according to its investigations, each accused journalist would face a possible combined sentence of nine years and six months in prison.
“The accusation brought by the Uttar Pradesh police is based on no tangible evidence and amounts to a judicial nuisance,” said Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific service.
“We urge Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, to regain some credibility by ordering the immediate withdrawal of the charges against the journalists named in this absurd First Information Report.”
The Digipub News India Foundation – an association of more than 60 independent digital publications – has ordered the Uttar Pradesh police to “immediately withdraw business and allow press publications to do their job without fear of reprisals” .
“The implications of this case go beyond those who have been charged here: Uttar Pradesh Police hold a threat to those who report the voices of crime victims. It tries to create an atmosphere where all journalists and information organizations will be discouraged from reporting anything, other than the official version, ”the Digipub statement said.
‘Journalism will become impossible’
I deleted the videos I had posted. The victim’s version of his being forced to sing “Jai Shri Ram” at this point at the moment doesn’t seem to add up to my conversations with police authorities and other journalists reporting on this issue. https://t.co/cof5bjv3I4
– Mohammed Zubair (@zoo_bear) June 15, 2021
Pratik Sinha, co-founder of fact-finding news site Alt News – Zubair’s boss – said his colleague was “targeted” for reporting the victim’s version in the Ghaziabad case.
“The social media influencers and the trends that distinguish Zubair are a testament to the impact it has. The Alt News team stays with Zubair,” he posted.
According to an RSF report published in April, India ranks 142nd on the World Press Freedom Index. It was ranked 133rd in 2016 – a reflection of the South Asian nation constantly scrolling for the rankings.
The RSF report ranked India among the nations classified as “bad” for journalism and defined it as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.
Wire’s founding editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, told Al Jazeera that the case against his portal was “an attempt to dissuade journalists and journalists from doing their job.”
“If it’s a crime to report what the victim of a crime has said about what happened to them, it means you want the media to carry only what the police say or what the official version is, and that any other version, if you make a report, you are at risk of being prosecuted, ”he said.
“If such an approach is allowed, then journalism will become impossible in India.”