WAN-IFRA regularly protests press freedom violations worldwide. Alongside our official statements calling for action, holding governments to account, and denouncing violence against journalists, we publish detailed background information from multiple sources concerning the cases we highlight.
We aim to bring the global spotlight to our members’ issues and challenges and invite you to contact us with any information you wish us to investigate as part of our commitment to protecting and promoting press freedom worldwide.
We encourage our members to cover these issues in their own publications, and you are free to use the material provided in shaping your coverage.
WAN-IFRA urges Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protect journalists in the aftermath of violent protests
WAN-IFRA ewpressed deep concern at reports of violence and hostility towards journalists covering the recent protests and riots related to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Delhi and elsewhere in the country. According to reports, several journalists have been hospitalised because of the severity of their injuries sustained while attempting to cover protests and clashes between rioting mobs and other groups. Read the official protest letter here.
Background to recent protests in India
The Citizenship Amendment Act was passed by the Indian parliament’s lower and upper houses in December 2019. As the BBC explains, it amends the 64-year-old Indian Citizenship law to make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens, as long as they come from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh, and are members of minority religious communities in these countries, i.e. Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian. It has been criticised as anti-Muslim, and “opponents of the bill say it is exclusionary and violates the secular principles enshrined in the constitution. They say faith cannot be made a condition of citizenship.” There have been other protests since the bill was passed, but the violence increased towards the end of February after religion-fuelled clashes erupted between pro- and anti-CAA groups, and saw 43 killed and thousands injured.
On specific cases of violence against journalists
- A television journalist Akash Napa reporting for JK 24×7 sustained gunshot injuries while attempting to report on violence on the Yamuna Vihar Road. He was hospitalised in “a critical but stable condition.”
- A female journalist, Parvina Purkayastha, reported being attacked by a “group of men armed with sticks and bricks” and being forced to plead for her life.
- Reporter Runjhun Sharma described being threatened by protesters not to take her phone out, and described how her colleague Arvind Gunasaker was beaten by a group of “around 50 men, armed with iron rods and hockey sticks” when he started taking pictures on his phone. He was left “limping and bleeding from the mouth, one tooth missing, two other broken” and all the images on his phone were deleted. The journalists were also forced to prove their religious identity to escape. Al-Jazeera reported that Gunasaker’s jaw was shattered and he needs surgery. https://www.news18.com/news/india/dont-click-photos-just-enjoy-the-view-mobs-warning-just-before-i-saw-fellow-journalists-brutalised-2515823.html
See also: NDTV’s Saurabh Shukla Shares How A Delhi Mob Attacked NDTV Crew
- Two male journalists report being asked to “prove” their religion by showing that they were uncircumcised. A Times of India photojournalist, Anindya Chattopadhyay, reported being followed by a group of men “wielding bamboo sticks and rods” while attempting to photograph protests near Maujpur metro station in northeast Delhi, who then “threatened to take off my pants to confirm my religion.” A freelance journalist, Manav Sushil, explained that he was trying to film violence in the same area when he and his team were made to disembark from their car and beaten. He said that he also had to prove his Hindu identity by twice removing his clothes.
- The Quint – Delhi Violence: When the cost of reporting is trauma
On the wider situation for journalists in India
Journalists in India suffer from a variety of threats, which have only increased under the current government.
Freedom House notes that although India’s private media is vigorous and diverse, there have been “escalating attacks on press freedom under the Modi government,” and that “Journalists risk harassment, death threats, and physical violence in the course of their work. Such attacks are rarely punished, and some have taken place with the complicity or active participation of police.”
A Freedom House report also describes how: “India, the world’s most populous democracy, is also sending signals that holding the government accountable is not part of the press’s responsibility. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has supported campaigns to discourage speech that is “antinational,” and government-aligned thugs have raided critical journalists’ homes and offices. The media have become widely flattering of Prime Minister Narendra Modi … amid allegations that the government issues directives on how the press should cover his activities and intimidates journalists who push back. The government has also been selective in the allocation of television licenses, effectively excluding unfriendly outlets from the airwaves.”
RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index also noted the threats to journalists from Hindu nationalists, and specific threats to women journalists: “The coordinated hate campaigns waged on social networks against journalists who dare to speak or write about subjects that aggravate Hindutva followers are alarming and include calls for the journalists concerned to be murdered. The campaigns are particularly virulent when the targets are women. The emergence of a #MeToo movement in the media in 2018 has lifted the veil on many cases of harassment and sexual assault to which women reporters have been subjected.”
This piece outlines some of the particular challenges for women journalists: https://rsf.org/en/news/how-women-have-fight-be-journalists-india
Links and resources:
- CPJ’s safety advisory on covering protests in India, February 25
- RSF’s statement on attacks on Indian reporters, March 3
- Advice from the Coalition for Women in Journalism
On freedom of the press in India:
RSF ranked India at 140 in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, finding that “Violence against journalists… is one of the most striking characteristics of the current state of press freedom in India.”
On covering protests worldwide:
The Backstory Podcast S2/E6 – Covering protests: Staying safe to tell the story
Covering urban street protests has become increasingly dangerous for journalists and requires new ways of thinking and acting.
WAN-IFRA blog post: Staying safe in the eye of the storm – covering protest movements
Index on Censorship’s “Targeting the messenger” (focused on Europe) found that journalists face risks from protesters and the police, and from being stuck between the two