Indian press freedom declined during last year, media outlets critical of govt harassed: US State dept report

The 2020 Human Rights Report released by US secretary of state Anthony Blinken says there were reports of govt officials being involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets

Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

NH Web Desk

The latest human rights report released by the US State department has noted that there have been several instances of critical media outlets being “pressured or harassed” by the Indian government or actors close to it.

Releasing the 2020 Human Rights Report on Tuesday, US secretary of state Anthony Blinken said that the Biden-Harris administration would speak against “human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners”.

The report contains a 68 page chapter on India, which notes that while the government “generally respected” freedom of media, there were several instances in which the “government or actors considered close to the government allegedly pressured or harassed media outlets critical of the government, including through online trolling”.

The report also quoted extensively from the think tank Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2020 document, which noted that the Indian government has often been silent when it came to dire attacks on free speech, as per a report carried by The Wire.

“The report stated authorities used security, defamation, sedition, and hate speech laws, as well as contempt-of-court charges, to curb critical voices in media. In some instances, the government reportedly withheld public-sector advertising from media outlets that criticised the government, causing some outlets to practice self-censorship. The report highlighted Hindu nationalist campaigns discouraging “anti-national” forms of speech as exacerbating self-censorship,” the US report says.

The US report mentions the case filed by UP police against The Wire‘s founding editor, Siddharth Varadarajan for mentioning in a tweet that chief minister Adityanath had said that a religious gathering held during the COVID-19 lockdown would be protected by a deity, although he issued a correction shortly thereafter.

The state department report said that press freedom had declined during the last year in India. “There were several reports from journalists and NGOs that government officials, at both the local and national levels, were involved in silencing or intimidating critical media outlets through physical harassment and attacks, pressuring owners, targeting sponsors, encouraging frivolous lawsuits, and in some areas blocking communication services, such as mobile telephones and the internet, and constraining freedom of movement,” it said.

The report also mentions the case filed against the executive editor of, Supriya Sharma for a report filed from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi on the effects of the lockdown. The Uttar Pradesh police had booked Sharma under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Indian Penal Code.

“According to reports, at least 55 journalists and editors were arrested or booked for reporting on the COVID-19 lockdown,” the report noted.

The report also noted that the police rarely identified suspects involved in killing journalists and members of media organisations.

It noted that the police did not file an FIR or make arrests in the attack on three journalists from Caravan magazine, who were reporting on the aftermath of the Delhi riots.

The report also took cognisance of online and mobile harassment of journalists, especially of women reporters. It specifically mentioned the online trolling of journalist Rana Ayyub, who also received death threats.

There were also observations of the high restrictions on media freedom in Kashmir, with cases frequently filed against journalists.

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