In the first four months of 2010, there were at least eleven attacks on journalist and one on a media house, and eight instances of bans, restrictions or regulation of media. This is the sobering result of the first-ever exhaustive documentation of threats to free speech in India, published by The Free Speech Hub – ironically enough, on World Press Freedom Day.
Since January, the Free Speech Hub, an initiative of the Media Foundation which also runs the media watch website The Hoot, has been tracking various threats – and support – to free speech. On Monday, it published what is intended to be the first of its quarterly reports on the state of freedom of speech and expression in India.
“Freedom of speech and expression in India is balanced precariously between the ever-present threat of direct, physical attacks from both security forces and social vigilante groups on the one hand, and the reassurance of protection from higher judicial authorities on the other, but the scales seem tipped in favour of the former,” says the report.
Some of the documented cases captured headlines in the media – for example, the cases which led to MF Husain’s decision to give up his Indian citizenship, the threats against writer Arundhati Roy’s article on the Maoists, and the attacks against the film My Name is Khan.
However, many of the most violent cases were attacks by security forces, social and political groups against journalists far from public scrutiny. The report records how Gowhar Bhat was beaten up while covering an opposition demonstration in Kashmir, while photographer Amaan Farooq was shot at by a senior police officer for covering the aftermath of an encounter in Srinagar. Journalist Amulya Pani was assaulted when he went to cover the police firing on villagers in Kalinganagar, Orissa, while journalists Moirangthem Romeo and Atom Lukhoi were arrested by Imphal East commandos in Jirabam, Manipur without any assigned reason.
The report also noted the bright spots in the response of the judiciary towards SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suits and the Supreme Court’s dismissal of cases against M F Husain and actress Khushboo.
A detailed list of cases is available at www.thehoot.org