CPJ calls on India to drop criminal probe into 3 journalists and The Wire

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NEW YORK, Jun 17 (APP): Authorities in India’s Uttar Pradesh state must immediately drop their criminal investigation into well-known three journalists — Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi, and Mohammed Zubair — as well as The Wire, a private news website, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Uttar Pradesh police filed a criminal complaint stating that they were opening a investigation into The Wire as well as Ms. Ayyub, a Washington Post columnist; Ms. Naqvi, a freelance journalist; and Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, according to various news reports.

The complaint alleges that the three journalists and the news outlet, as well as several politicians from the opposition Congress Party, shared an unverified video that could cause social unrest.

“Indian authorities singling out journalists, some of whom are known for critical coverage of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, for sharing and commenting on a video looks suspiciously like selective law enforcement and amounts to a serious attack on press freedom,” Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator, in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

“Uttar Pradesh police must withdraw their complaint immediately and stop harassing journalists and news outlets,” he added.

On June 14, The Wire and many other leading news outlets reported on a widely shared video from Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad district, which allegedly depicted a group of Hindu men beating an elderly Muslim man, cutting off his beard, and forcing him to chant a Hindu slogan. Ms. Ayyub, Ms. Naqvi, and Zubair tweeted about the video, according to those news reports.

The complaint, filed by an inspector at the Loni Border police station in Ghaziabad, accuses Ms. Ayyub, Ms. Naqvi, and Zubair of posting tweets police alleged were misleading and unverified.

The complaint states that police are investigating the three journalists and The Wire for violating Sections 153 (provocation to cause a riot), 153A (promoting enmity between religious groups), 295A (insulting religious beliefs), 505 (public mischief), and 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian penal code.

Each of those sections carry prison penalties of up to one year for convictions, except for criminal conspiracy, which carries up to two years, according to the Indian penal code.

In posts on Twitter after the criminal complaint was filed, Ms. Ayyub, Ms. Naqvi, and Zubair noted that their descriptions of the video were based on initial news reports.

CPJ said it texted Uttar Pradesh Police Director-General Hitesh Awasthy for comment but did not receive any reply.

Last year, Uttar Pradesh police filed opened criminal investigations into The Wire’s Siddharth Vardarajan for allegedly “spreading discord” related to the COVID-19 lockdown, as CPJ documented at the time.