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Journalists Are Being Targetted, Jailed in India, Says USCIRF

Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan. He was arrested on his way to Hathras in UP where he was going for reporting the rape of a Dalit girl. — File photo

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on May 3. This time India has slipped eight places to 150 in the index of press freedom.

Team Clarion 

NEW DELHI — On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government body in the United States that  monitors international religious freedom, has expressed serious concern about India’s dwindling press freedom situation.

USCIRF has said that it stands with journalists who are facing persecution and violence on account of their religion and cited the case of incarcerated journalist Siddique Kappan. The US panel has specifically mentioned India in its tweet and said that it stands with the journalists who have been targeted by the Modi government for reporting violence against Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Sikhs and Adivasis. They are  being targeted and jailed, said the panel.

The panel has also mentioned some names of Indian journalists and cases related to them, including those of Kappan and Kishore Ram. Journalist Kappan was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police when he was on his way to Hathras to cover the rape and murder of a Dalit woman in October 2019.

Journalist Kappan and three others from Campus Front of India were detained by the Mathura police under ‘preventive power’ under Section 151 of the CrPC on account of the apprehension of an offence. All four were produced before the Executive Magistrate on October 6, 2020 and the court sent them to 14 days police custody. On October 7, the police registered the first FIR in this case.

The police invoked sections 17 and 18 of UAPA (anti-terror law), sections 124A (sedition), 153A (promoting enmity between two groups) of the Indian Penal Code, 295A (hurting religious sentiments) and sections 62, 72, 76 of the IT Act were invoked. The police accused them of having intention to disturb peace in Hathras at the time when the country was in grip of  outrage and protests against the rape and murder incident.

The UP government told the Supreme Court that Kappan, who is the secretary of the PFI,  was on his way to Hathras for coverage while the newspaper he claims to be working for had closed in 2018.

It is to be noted that USCIRF, a few days ago, recommended the Biden administration to list India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and 11 other countries as “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom status.

India’s position in the matter of press freedom has been described as worrying.

The US Commission tweeted: “Siddiq Kappan is a Muslim journalist and is known for reporting on religious issues. Kappan was arrested on his way to Hathras in UP where he was going for reporting the rape of a Dalit girl.

The Commission further wrote, “In February 2022, Kishore Ram, a Dalit journalist who raised his voice for the marginalised communities in the society, was arrested for raising the issue of caste during an interview with a Dalit family whose members were raped and murdered.”

World Press Freedom Day is celebrated every year on 3 May. This time India has slipped eight places to 150 in the index of press freedom.

In the latest report released by ‘Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF), India has slipped from 142nd place to 150th place in terms of freedom of press.

According to the news agency PTI, the report said that except Nepal, the ranking of other neighbouring countries of India has also declined, in which Pakistan has reached 157th, Sri Lanka 146th, Bangladesh 162nd and Myanmar 176th. This ranking is for a total of 180 countries.

This year Norway (1st), Denmark (2nd), Sweden (3rd), Estonia (4th) and Finland is ranked 5th while North Korea is at the bottom of the list of 180 countries and territories. Russia has been ranked 155th in this report, down from 150th place last year, while China has climbed two places to 175th. Last year China was ranked 177th.

In its annual report, the USCIRF recommended the State Department to place India on the US list of “countries of particular concern” for the third year in a row. The commission had also sought a ban on those concerned individuals and entities who are found to be involved in serious violations of religious freedom.

The commission had said that along with confiscating the properties of these people in America, their entry into the country should also be banned.

The commission said that in the year 2021, the situation of religious freedom inside India has been seriously jolted.

The Commission also noted that the Government of India propagated many such policies, that promote a Hindu nationalist agenda, which negatively affected Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits and other religious minorities.

The report also referred to the use of UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and criticised anti-conversion laws introduced in several states of India.

The USCIRF said that religious freedom is being violated in a systematic manner in India and hence it should be included in the list of countries of “special concern”.

The USCIRF is an independent government body created by the International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 (IRFA) to monitor religious freedom violations globally. This commission has been created to make policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of the state  and the US Congress.

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