By Arushi Sharma
As many as 262 journalists are imprisoned around the world in consequence of doing their job, according to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The report revealed that Turkey, China, and Egypt house more than half of these jailed journalists. The advocacy group covered the cases of Kamran Yousuf and Vinod Verma from India.
What is the background?
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) arrested Kamran Yousuf—a photojournalist from Kashmir —on September 4 this year, alleging his involvement in stone-pelting incidents. His name resurfaced in the headlines because of his recently denied bail plea.
Another case mentioned in the report is that of former BBC journalist, Vinod Verma. He was arrested from his Ghaziabad home on October 27 on charges of blackmailing and extorting Rajesh Munat, a Chhattisgarh minister, allegedly using a sexually explicit CD.
Arrests on flimsy grounds
Kamran Yousuf work was gathering a wide reach within south Kashmir while working as a freelance journalist with various media houses. Shortly after his arrest, the Press Club of India sent a notice to the NIA, enquiring as to why he was arrested. The Kashmir Editors’ Guild also argued that he has been incarcerated without any reason. The NIA has not produced a charge-sheet yet, much to the chagrin of Rights organisations.
The second case listed in the report was filed under the Information Technology Act after Minister Munat accused Vinod Verma of maligning his image. Later, the contentious CD was sent for a forensic study and the state government also announced a CBI investigation into the matter. To date, both Verma and the Editors’ Guild of India have maintained that he is being framed.
Why does it matter?
The CPJ report also divulged that about 75% of the jailed journalists were accused of anti-government actions, many of which are covered under broad and indistinct counter-terror laws. The report cites this as “a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.” It should be noted that the prevalence of a nationalistic rhetoric, such as the case of US President Donald Trump calling all critical coverage ‘fake news,’ engenders the risk of wrongfully charging and jailing journalists.
In the Indian context, the media industry is not faced with as much uncertainty. However, the concern over political control of the media still remains.
The future outlook
As CPJ continues to list jailed journalists and the potentially wrongful cases against them, the dialogue around the freedom of Indian press can only gain from it. Safe and free journalism in India requires adequate legal and institutional reforms, along with a strengthened policing system. Moreover, there is a greater need for political commitment to protect and promote free speech. In fact, the promise of a “New India” demands it.
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