Brought in form of a First Information Report (FIR) on the evening of 15 June by the police of Ghaziabad, a Delhi suburb that is part of Uttar Pradesh, the accusation names three journalists – Washington Post columnist Rana Ayyub, writer Saba Naqvi, and Mohammed Zubair, one of the founders of the Alt news website. It also names The Wire, a well-known investigative news website, and Twitter India.
They are accused of conducting a “criminal conspiracy” although all they did was post tweets about a video showing an elderly man identified as a Muslim being badly beaten in Ghaziabad by several other men, who shaved his beard and forced him to chant “Jai Shri Ram,” a Hindu chant that has become a rallying cry for religious extremists.
Before the three journalists named in the FIR tweeted about the video, which went viral on the evening of 13 June, it was widely shared and commented by India’s leading media outlets including The Times of India.
The Uttar Pradesh police nonetheless decided that the three journalists’ tweets sufficed to order their arrest under six articles of the Indian penal code named in the FIR, a copy of which has been seen by RSF.
The charges are provocation to cause riot, promoting enmity between religious groups, insulting religious beliefs, public mischief, criminal conspiracy and common intention to commit a crime. According to RSF’s research, each of the journalists is therefore facing a possible combined sentence of nine years and six months in prison.
“The accusation brought by the Uttar Pradesh police is based on absolutely no tangible element and clearly amounts to judicial harassment,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath to recover a semblance of credibility by ordering the immediate withdrawal of the charges against the journalists named in this absurd First Information Report.”
This is not the first time that Rana Ayyub has been targeted by the police. Police in Amethi, a town also located in Uttar Pradesh, threatened her with legal action in November 2019 when she posted a cryptic tweet about a legal dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a religious site. The threat, which RSF condemned at the time, was accompanied by a shocking wave of online threats and hate messages against Ayyub.
India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.