Indian journalists accused of sedition over farm protest reporting

NEW DELHI • Several senior Indian journalists are facing charges of sedition over their reporting and online posts about a protest by farmers last week, sparking criticism of the legal action from media associations.

The cases have been filed with police in at least five states against the journalists including Mr Rajdeep Sardesai, a prominent anchor on the India Today television channel, and Mr Vinod Jose, executive editor of the Caravan magazine.

The cases, filed by residents of the states, allege that the journalists provoked violence during protests by farmers at New Delhi's Red Fort on Jan 26 through incorrect posts on Twitter and reports that police had killed a protester.

Scores of tweets and accounts have since been blocked, local media reported yesterday.

"Ministry of Electronics and IT directed Twitter to block around 250 tweets/ Twitter accounts which were using 'Modi Planning Farmer Genocide' hashtag & making fake, intimidatory & provocative tweets on Jan 30," Asian News International tweeted.

Caravan's account was among those blocked.

Tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on the outskirts of the capital for more than two months, demanding the withdrawal of new agricultural laws that they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi says reform of the agriculture sector will bring about opportunities for farmers.

The protests turned violent on Jan 26, when farmers broke into the historic Red Fort complex, with one protester killed and hundreds injured.

At the time, a witness told Reuters the protester was killed when the tractor he was driving overturned and crushed him but there was also talk he had been shot.

Police, who had fired tear gas on the day, denied shooting him.

"The accused tried to provoke the protesters for their political and personal gains by spreading false and misleading information online," one complaint filed in Uttar Pradesh state said, echoing the language of the other filings.

Mr Jose said his journalists on the ground heard from a witness and a relative of the dead man that he had been shot. "This is an attack on free and independent reporting ... Government wants only its official version to be published," he said in a statement.

A lawyer for Mr Sardesai did not have any immediate comment when contacted yesterday.

The Editors Guild of India, the Press Club of India and several other journalist groups condemned the police complaints and called them an intimidation tactic aimed at stifling the media.

The farm protests continued near the capital yesterday.

Police and paramilitary forces dug ditches and spread razor wire across main roads into New Delhi to prevent protesting farmers from entering the capital as the finance minister prepared to deliver the government's annual budget in Parliament.

Internet and messaging services were blocked in several neighbourhoods on the outskirts where protests turned violent.

"The government has increased security to avoid any clash or violence when Parliament is in session," said a senior official who did not wish to be named in line with official policy. "The idea is to keep everyone safe and avoid any escalation in tensions."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2021, with the headline 'Indian journalists accused of sedition over farm protest reporting'. Subscribe