Indian authorities must immediately release journalist Mandeep Punia and refrain from detaining and investigating members of the press covering protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday.
On the evening of January 30, Delhi police manhandled and detained Mandeep Punia, a contributor to The Caravan magazine and Junputh news website, and Dharmendra Singh, a reporter with the YouTube news channel “Online News India,” while they covered protests against farmers in national capital Delhi against Narendra Modi government’s new agri laws.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York City, New York, with correspondents around the world.
Delhi police, which fall under the jurisdiction of Home Minister Amit Shah released Singh without charge, but Punia remains in custody.
Since January 28, police have also opened at least eight investigations into journalists and media outlets that have covered the protests.
“We are extremely alarmed by the authorities’ treatment of journalists and news organizations reporting on the farmers’ protests in India, which is an issue of national importance,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher.
“Indian authorities must immediately release journalist Mandeep Punia and drop all investigations into journalists and news outlets who have been diligently covering the protests,” she said.
Early in the morning of January 31, authorities opened an investigation into Punia for allegedly violating four sections of the Indian penal code pertaining to obstructing and assaulting police personnel, according to a copy of the police complaint, which CPJ reviewed.
A court ordered him to be held in judicial custody for 14 days pending investigation.
Separately, since January 28, police in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Delhi have opened investigations into at least eight journalists over their coverage of allegations that Delhi police killed a protesting farmer January 26, which police deny.
Six of those journalists were named in identical complaints accusing them of several violations of the Indian Penal Code, including sedition and promoting enmity between groups, according to those reports. Those journalists include Rajdeep Sardesai of the India Today news channel, Mrinal Pande of English-language daily National Herald, Zafar Agha of Urdu-language newspaper Qaumi Qwaz, and Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, and Vinod K. Jose of The Caravan.
In response to a different complaint relating to the killing, on January 30 Uttar Pradesh police opened an investigation into New Delhi-based independent news website The Wire, its editor Siddharth Varadarajan, and reporter Ismat Ara.
Vardarajan told CPJ via messaging app that he believed the investigations into journalists who covered the protester’s death risk criminalizing the act of questioning a postmortem or airing accusations against the police.
CPJ said it emailed police spokespeople in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Delhi, but did not receive any responses.