All charges must be dropped against three Indian journalists released on bail, says RSF

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the withdrawal of all charges against three Indian journalists who were released on bail on the orders of the supreme court or a special court in the past few days, in a stinging repudiation of the actions of the authorities in holding them for months or years under India’s terrorism laws.

The three journalists are Gautam Navlakha, a columnist for the Newsclick news site, , Prabir PurkayasthaNewsclick’s editor, and Aasif Sultan, a former reporter for the now closed Kashmir Narrator monthly. All were the victims of trumped-up charges in connection with their journalism and, although now free on bail pending trial, all still face the possibility of long jail terms.

“These three journalists were jailed on trumped-up charges under terrorism laws with the aim of reducing them to silence. Political authorities use these laws, which allow interminable pretrial detention, to stifle any critical voice and create an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship within the media. We call for all charges against these three journalists to be dropped, and we urge the Indian government to stop misapplying the terrorism laws, which have been repeatedly used to persecute journalists.

Célia Mercier
Head of RSF’s South Asia desk

Released by the supreme court on 14 May, Navlakha had been held since April 2020 on various charges including violating the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). He covered stories involving the troubled northern territory of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as Maoist armed separatists. He was assigned to house arrest In November 2022 because of his age and health problems. The Bombay high court had ordered his release on bail in December 2023 but the National Investigation Agency appealed against the decision and his house arrest was extended. He has been ordered to pay the authorities the equivalent of 22,000 euros in costs arising from his house arrest.

Purkayastha was released on 15 May by the supreme court, which ruled that his detention by the New Delhi police on 4 October 2023 was illegal because neither he nor his lawyer was previously given a written copy of the remand application stating the grounds for his arrest. Newsclick’s founder and editor was arrested in the wake of a flagrant attack on press freedom on 3 October  2023, in which police staged high-profile raids on the homes of a total of 46 journalists linked to Newsclick – one of India’s few independent media outlets – on the pretext that it was illegally funded by China.

A reporter for the Kashmir Narrator, a monthly forced to close in 2019, Sultan was released on bail on 10 May under a special court order that found that he had been jailed for years “without any reasonable justification.” Special Judge Mohammad Syed Shah said the police arrested Sultan “without any reason or rhyme (...) he is innocent and has not committed any offence of whatsoever in nature.” Sultan was previously released on 28 February after being held for five years under terrorism laws, but the police arrested him again two days later, shortly after he was reunited with his family in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s capital. He has become the symbol of the persecution of journalists in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

A total of six journalists are currently detained in India – including five under its terrorism laws. In the ten years that Narendra Modi has been prime minister, India has fallen from 140th to 159th out of 180 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.

159/ 180
Score : 31.28
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