Journalist raids and arrests: Media organisations urge CJI to step in and safeguard press freedom in India
Journalist raids and arrests: Media organisations urge CJI to step in and safeguard press freedom in India

The letter has urged the Supreme Court to discourage arbitrary confiscation of journalists' devices, put an end to ill-conceived interrogations and establish mechanisms to hold state agencies accountable.

Fifteen media organizations have written to Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud seeking his intervention in the wake of the recent arrests and raids of journalists in the capital.

The associations have urged the Supreme Court to:

Frame norms to discourage arbitrary confiscation of journalists' mobile phones and laptops;

Evolve guidelines for the interrogation of journalists and for seizuers from them;

Find ways to ensure accountability of State agencies and individual officers who are found overstepping the law or wilfully misleading courts against journalists.

"There have been many instances over the past few years when assaults on the free press by the State have required judicial intervention, and we continue to pursue such cases. But the developments over the past 24 hours have left us no option but to appeal to your good conscience to take cognisance and intervene before it is too late and an autocratic police state becomes the norm," the letter stated.

The CJI's attention has been drawn to the raids conducted by a Special Cell of the Delhi Police on the homes of 46 journalists, editors, writers and professionals seemingly connected to the online news portal, NewsClick.

The raids led to the arrests of two persons under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and the seizure of mobile phones and computers without ensuring the integrity of their data. In this context, the letter said,

"The invocation of UAPA is especially chilling. Journalism cannot be prosecuted as 'terrorism'. Enough instances in history abound to tell us where that eventually goes."

The letter also brings to attention the duty of the judiciary to uphold the Constitution in the context of the threats journalists in India face today.

"The fact is that today, a large section of journalists in India finds itself working under the threat of reprisal. And it is imperative that the Judiciary confronts Power with a fundamental Truth - that there is a Constitution to which we are all answerable."

Reference is made to the numerous occasions when the country's investigating agencies have been misused and weaponised against the press.

"Sedition and terrorism cases have been filed against editors and reporters, and multiple, sequential and/or frivolous FIRs have been used as an instrument of harassment against journalists," the letter mentioned.

The letter states that its purpose is not to bypass or circumvent the process and procedure established by law.

"But when journalists are summoned and their devices seized in the name of investigation, there is an inherent malice in the process that must be checked," it added.

Journalists arrested under the UAPA can end up spending months, if not years, behind bars before they are even granted bail, the media organizations pointed out.

"We already have the case of Siddique Kappan before us; he was incarcerated for two years and four months before finally securing bail. The tragic death of Father Stan Swamy in custody is a reminder of how indifferent the authorities seem to have become towards human life under the guise of combating 'terrorism'."

The organisations make it clear that their journalists are always willing to cooperate with bona fide investigations. However,

"Ad hoc, sweeping measures and interrogations surely cannot be accepted in any democratic country, let alone one that has begun advertising itself as the 'mother of democracy'."

The letter is endorsed by the following media organisations - Digipub News India Foundation, Indian Women's Press Corps, Press Club of India New Delhi, Foundation for Media Professionals Network of Women in Media, India Chandigarh Press Club, National Alliance of Journalists, Delhi Union of Journalists, Kerala Union of Working Journalists, Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists, Free Speech Collective Mumbai Mumbai Press Club, Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists, Press Association of India and Guwahati Press Club.

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