Blatant Attempts to Silence The Media: Media Veterans, Civil Societies and Former Cops condemn FIRs lodged against Siddharth Varadarajan

Siddharth Varadarajan (Photo Courtesy: Sushil Kumar Verma/The Hindu)

Media Veterans, Civil Societies and Former Cops have condemned the FIRs filed against Siddhartha Vardarajan, an internationally acclaimed journalist and founding editor of a very popular news portal, by the Uttar Pradesh government.

More than 200 journalists in a joint statement condemned the FIRs lodged against the Vardarajan by Uttar Pradesh police on account of a news story revealing how Yogi Adityanath defied laws in the mid of lock down.

The joint statement endorsed by more than 200 journalists including N.Ram, Chairman of The Hindu Group of Publications, Sreenivasan Jain, NDTV, Alan Rusbridger, Former Editor, The Guardian, Rajdeep Sardesai, Senior Journalist, India Today TV, Suhasini Haider, The Hindu, Swati Chaturvedi, Senior Journalist, R. Vijaya Sankar, Editor, Frontline, Venkitesh Ramakrishnan, Sr Associate Editor, Frontline, T.K Rajalakshmi, Frontline, Maya Mirchandani, Senior Journalist says “We, the undersigned members of the journalist fraternity, strongly condemn the FIRs filed against Siddharth Varadarajan, one of the Founding Editors of the Wire by the Uttar Pradesh government. This constitutes nothing but a brazen attempt to muzzle the media. The Wire was accused of causing panic when it reported that UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath attended a religious event on March 25 at Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navmi, when a national lockdown was in force.”

“The Wire has held that the CM’s presence was a matter of public record and knowledge. A sentence in an article in the Wire had wrongly attributed a statement made by Acharya Paramhans to the chief minister, which was not only retracted but a corrigendum issued as well,” it further says.

The notice under Section 41(A) of the Criminal Procedure Code cites an FIR registered by the Faizabad police claiming that Varadarajan had made an “objectionable” comment about Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. This is one of two FIRs registered on the basis of private complaints by individuals described as residents of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh. In one of the FIRs, the complainant objects to an unspecified tweet by Varadarajan, while the second complainant, as recorded in the FIR, says:

The Wire editor on his blog (sic), with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public, publicised the following message:

On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Yogi Adityanath insisted that a large fair planned for Ayodhya on the occasion of Ram Navami from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual while Acharya Paramhans said that ‘Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’. One day after Modi announced the “curfew like” national lockdown on March 24, Adityanath violated the official guidelines to take part in a religious ceremony in Ayodhya along with dozens of people”.

Surprisingly, the above reference text included in one of the FIRs is actually from a news report where there is no specific name in the byline. It was from the The Wire Staff.

ANHAD, Indian Civil Watch and other civil societies also condemned the act of Uttar Pradesh police. In a statement issued by ANHAD, it says “This is a blatant attack on freedom of the press. We strongly condemn this intimidation and demand the quashing of the FIR against Siddharth Vardarajan.”

Indian Civil Watch has a joint statement endorsed by more than 1500 veterans across the world condemning the move of UP Police. Signatories of the statement of Indian Civil Watch include Professors Pranab Bardhan (University of California, Berkeley), Arjun Appadurai (New York University), Sheldon Pollock (Columbia University), Barbara Harriss White (University of Oxford), Patricia Jeffery (Edinburgh University), James Manor (University of London), Ashutosh Varshney (Brown University).

The statement says “We, the undersigned, are shocked at the action of the UP police under Yogi Adityanath in filing criminal charges against The Wire and against one of its founding editors, Siddharth Varadarajan. This attack on media freedom, especially during the Covid-19 crises, endangers not just free speech, but the public’s right to information.”

Amitabh Kumar Das, a senior cop from Bihar who was forcibly retired from the current government also has his words of condemnation. “I strongly condemn the registration  of FIRs against senior journalist Siddhartha Varadrajan by the UP police. It is a blatant attempt to silence voices of dissent,  so crucial to a thriving democracy. UP has again proved that it is Ulta Pradesh where fair is foul and foul is fair.”

The Editors Guild of India has also criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for registering an FIR against the Founding Editor of The Wire news portal Siddharth Varadarajan.

“A police action in the form of an FIR under criminal laws at this stage is an overreaction and an act of intimidation,” said the Editors Guild of India (EGI) in a statement.

Any such intimidation of the media or blaming the media for mass migration of workers will be counterproductive, the Guild added.

“Such actions will be tantamount to disabling the messenger,” the EGI further said.


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