Supriya Sharma was booked by UP police after she filed a news report highlighting the effects of coronavirus lockdown on the poor of Varanasi, the parliament constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi
NEW DELHI – Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) on Thursday condemned the FIR against award-winning journalist Supriya Sharma who was booked by Uttar Pradesh police after she filed a news report highlighting the effects of coronavirus lockdown on the poor of Varanasi, the parliament constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Terming the FIR as an intimidation attempt, RSF, on Thursday evening, posted a tweet: “In #India, independent news portal @scroll_in’s editor @sharmasupriya has just been booked for a report on the effects of the lockdown to combat #coronavirus. @RSF_inter condemns in the strongest terms this blatent attempt to intimidate one of India’s most resilient reporter!”
🇮🇳 In #India, independent news portal @scroll_in's editor @sharmasupriya has just been booked for a report on the effects of the lockdown to combat #coronavirus. @RSF_inter condemns in the strongest terms this blatent attempt to intimidate one of India's most resilient reporter!
— RSF (@RSF_inter) June 18, 2020
Supriya Sharma, who is executive editor of Scroll.in, was, on Saturday, booked under sections of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Her report had alleged that the lockdown forced people into starvation in the villages represented by the Prime Minister.
The FIR lodged in Rampur police station states that Sharma violated Sections 501 and 269 of the Indian Penal Code and accuses her of “defamation” and negligence about coronavirus infection.
Scroll.in termed the case an “attempt to intimidate and silence independent journalism, reporting on conditions of vulnerable groups during the Covid-19 lockdown”.
According to a police report, the case was filed after a villager Mala Devi filed a complaint alleging that the report misrepresented her identity. While giving the account of Devi, the report says she was a domestic worker who faced food distress in the lockdown as she lacked a ration card. Devi lives in Domar, a village adopted by the Prime Minister under a scheme to give it special care.
The FIR quoted Devi as saying that she was not a domestic worker but a sanitation worker and alleges that Sharma made “fun of my poverty and caste” by stating her family faced food distress.
In response to the FIR, Scroll.in said they stand by the story. “Scroll.in interviewed Mala in Domari village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on June 5, 2020. Her statements have accurately been reported in the article,” a statement published by the website said.
The FIR against Sharma was widely condemned by activists and rights groups as journalists took to social media to show their solidarity with her.
Since the beginning of coronavirus lockdown in March, dozens of journalists have been booked or arrested in cases over reporting on the fallout of the unprecedented measures enforced to curb the spread of coronavirus.
In April, Reporters Without Borders published the 2020 Press Freedom Index list in which India had dropped two spots and now ranked 142 in a list of 180 countries. This is a logical outcome of the measures the incumbent BJP government has adopted to curtail freedom of the press.