British Parliament’s Petitions Committee will consider a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons complex on the issue of farmers protests and press freedom in India after an online petition attracted over 1,06,000 signatures.
While the list of signatories for the e-petition also reflects a signature of Boris Johnson, in his capacity as a west London Conservative Party member of Parliament, Downing Street on Wednesday categorically denied that the U.K. Prime Minister had signed the petition.
India has called the remarks by foreign leaders and organisations on protests by farmers as “ill-informed” and “unwarranted”, asserting that the matter pertains to the internal affairs of a democratic country.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi issued a statement on Wednesday to highlight that the Parliament of India had passed “reformist legislation” for the agricultural sector, which “a very small section of farmers” have some reservations about and therefore the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.
Emphasising that the protests must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity, the MEA in its statement said some vested interest groups have tried to mobilise international support against the country.
“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken,” it said.
“The temptation of sensationalist social media hashtags and comments, especially when resorted to by celebrities and others, is neither accurate nor responsible,” the MEA statement said following some high-profile celebrities tweeting over the agitation by farmers.
In London, a U.K. government spokesperson said, “Media freedom is vital for the protection of human rights and journalists all around the world must be free to do their job and to hold authorities to account without fear of arrest or violence.”
“Free press plays a crucial role in our democracies and the government are putting their full weight behind this including through our membership of the Media Freedom Coalition,” the spokesperson said.
The petition on the official Parliament petitions website, entitled ‘Urge the Indian Government to ensure safety of protesters & press freedom’, calls on the British government to make a public statement on the “#kissanprotests & press freedoms”.
All e-petitions on the Parliament website that cross the 10,000 signatures mark require the U.K. government to make an official statement and any petitions that cross 1,00,000 signatures must be considered for a debate. The House of Commons said the government’s response to the petition is expected later this month and the debate is under consideration.
“Petitions that receive 1,00,000 signatures will be considered for a debate in Parliament. Debates in Westminster Hall – where petitions debates take place – are currently suspended, but Committee will make an announcement on scheduling this debate as soon as possible,” a House of Commons spokesperson said.
Some of the signatories of the petition reflect names of cross-party parliamentarians including Indian-origin Opposition Labour Party MPs Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and Preet Kaur Gill, who have been particularly vocal over the issue on social media and most recently raised concerns over the blockage of “water, electricity and internet” to protesting crowds.
Meanwhile, the Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) in the U.K. joined other international media organisations to express concern over the arrest of journalists covering the farmers’ protests and urged the Indian government to ensure the safety of journalists in the country.
“The freedom of press is an important pillar of any democracy and authorities must ensure that journalists are able to do their jobs – reporting accurately and without bias – however challenging the circumstances,” it said in a statement.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping at several Delhi border points since November last year, demanding the government to repeal the three farm laws and legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.
Defending the three contentious agri laws, the MEA said, “these reforms give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers. They also pave the way for economically and ecologically sustainable farming.”