By Debananda Medak
Guwahati: The Rights and Risks Analysis Group, an independent think-tank based in New Delhi, in its report, “India: Media’s Crackdown During COVID-19 Lockdown” stated that at least 55 journalists faced arrest, registration of FIRs, summons or show causes notices, physical assaults, alleged destruction of properties and threats for reportage on COVID-19 or exercising freedom of opinion and expression during the national lockdown from 25 March to 31 May 2020.
Group Director Suhas Chakma revealed that the highest number of attacks in the media persons was reported from Uttar Pradesh (11 journalists), followed by Jammu & Kashmir (6 journalists), Himachal Pradesh (5), four each in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra, two each in Punjab, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala and one each in Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Nagaland and Telangana.
“The Centre, from the very outset of the pandemic, sought to suppress press freedom under the garb of deliberate or inaccurate reporting on COVID-19. Even though on March 31, the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the free discussion about the pandemic, the repression on the journalists who acted as messengers by risking their lives to convey the news of various mismanagement, deficiencies, corruption, hunger of the migrant workers, impoverished citizens, lack of adequate PPE for doctors at hospitals etc began in earnest,” Chakma said.
The Director stressed that India has become the riskiest place for journalists in the world. “It did not take a long time for the State and political activists to allege the journalists from acting prejudicial to maintenance of harmony to prejudicial to prejudicial to the national integrity, sovereignty and security of India,” he further said.
According to Chakma, First Information Reports were filed against at least 22 journalists under the IPC, Information Technology Act, Disaster Management Act, Motors Vehicles Act and Scheduled Tribes/Scheduled Castes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for reporting starvation faced by the migrant workers, the failure of the administration to supply rations to migrant workers, gathering of the migrant workers, irregularities in the running of relief camps for migrants, mismanagement and negligence at quarantine centres, or simply reporting a minister following the suggestions of astrologers or using certain terms against the ruling party or criticising Chief Ministers.
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