The International Press Institute (IPI) has condemned the arrest of A.S. Mani, Editor of Tamil magazine Naveena Netrikkan, on the criminal charge of defamation.
“The arrest of A.S. Mani shows the extent to which criminal defamation can effectively silence the media’s ability to report on issues of public concern,” IPI director David Dadge said.
“If journalists fear for their liberty whenever exposing corruption, they will naturally seek to avoid the subject. As a result, India — through its legal system — is maintaining a form of indirect censorship that inhibits one of the most powerful instruments in the fight against corruption,” he said in a statement.
Mr. Mani was remanded to judicial custody in Madurai on Sunday.
The arrest followed a complaint made by a local contractor about an allegedly defamatory article published in the magazine.
Defamation is a criminal offence in India, but it is non-cognizable and bailable. Arrests for defamation are highly unusual, says the IPI release.
The police not only charged Mr. Mani with criminal defamation under Section 502 of the Indian Penal Code (printing and distributing defamatory material) but also with more serious offences, including under Section 153A (1) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence and language and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony); Section 503 (criminal intimidation); and Section 505 (statement causing fear or alarm among the public). Offences under both Sections 153A and 505 are treated as more serious offences, being cognizable and non-bailable.
Earlier this month, the police in Tamil Nadu arrested another editor for publishing an article allegedly insulting an actor.
On October 8, the News Editor of Tamil daily Dinamalar, B. Lenin, was arrested, under Section 4 of the Tamil Nadu Women Harassment (prevention) Act, on a complaint filed by the general secretary of the South India Film Artistes Association. He was released on bail two days later, the IPI said.