US Secretary should raise press freedom during India visit: Global media watchdog

EPA-EFE/Al Drago / POOL

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists from press freedom, Tuesday called on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to raise press freedom and harassment of journalists in India during his talks with Narendra Modi government in New Delhi.

Secretary Blinken is on a two-day visit to India, where he will meet his counterpart S. Jaishankar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior government officials. Human rights will figure on the agenda of his talks with Indian officials.

In a letter to Secretary Blinken, IPI has urged him to raise the issue of declining press freedom and the harassment of independent journalists and media organizations in the country.

“The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has displayed complete intolerance to criticism and resorted to legal harassment to punish those journalists and media organizations who are critical of its policies and speak truth to power”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said in the letter to Secretary Blinken.

“Draconian laws like sedition, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Disaster Management Act have been regularly invoked against several prominent editors and journalists who dared to question government’s policies and actions, especially its response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” read the letter.

“The recent revelations that some 40 journalists were targeted with the Pegasus spyware shows the extent to which the government has gone to invade the professional and private lives of journalists in order to stifle press freedom and human rights in the country”, Trionfi noted.

The media watchdog pointed out that the Income Tax department had last week raided the offices of Dainik Bhaskar and accused the media group of evading taxes for years without providing any evidence.

“The newspaper has extensively covered the impact of the health crisis and published photos of dead bodies floating in the river, which ostensibly offended the government,” said the letter.

IPI also called on him to make a “public statement expressing concern about the rapid decline in press freedom and harassment of journalists, as this would raise the sagging morale of editors and journalists in the country, as well as remind the Indian government that the international community has not turned a blind eye to the sordid developments in India”.