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JOURNALISTS’ organisations warned that “no prison is big enough to contain free speech” as scores of their members were detained today and charged with sedition after reporting on the huge farmers’ protest in Delhi last week.
Cases were filed in at least five states, with high-profile journalists including Rajdeep Sardesai, a anchor on the India Today television channel, and Vinod Jose, executive editor of the English-language Caravan magazine, among those accused.
A number of prominent media organisations had their social media accounts shut down by Indian authorities.
Mr Jose warned: “This is an attack on free and independent reporting … the government wants only its official version to be published.
Caravan reporter Mandeep Punia was detained on Saturday at Singhu, one of the main protest sites.
He was photographed being taken to court on Sunday, where he is expected to be charged on unknown offences, local media reported.
Indian authorities have accused the journalists of inciting violence through their reporting of last week’s protests, which took place on Republic Day.
One protester was killed as police barricades were broken to scale the iconic Red Fort in the Indian capital.
There were reports, denied by the government, that a farmer had been shot by police.
One of the cases filed in Uttar Pradesh said: “The accused tried to provoke the protesters for their political and personal gains by spreading false and misleading information online.”
But the Editors Guild of India said it was disturbed that the police complaints had been filed under as many as 10 different legal provisions including sedition, promoting communal disharmony and insulting religious beliefs.
President of the Press Club of India Anand Sahay said it was not a coincidence that the cases had largely been registered in states ruled by far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.
But the organisations warned that attempts by the government to intimidate journalists and stifle press freedom would fail.
“No prison is big enough to contain free speech,” TV presenter Ravish Kumar insisted as protests over the arrests took place outside police stations.
Prime Minister Modi has been accused of clamping down on press freedom.
Last year, India dropped two places to 142nd in the annual World Press Freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders.
Its annual report accused the Indian government of “constant press freedom violations, including police violence against journalists” and increased “pressure on the media to toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line.”
Mr Modi has vowed to press ahead with the controversial agricultural laws at the centre of the protests.
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