Amid Protest Crackdown in India, PEN America Calls for Protection of Free Expression
Months-long demonstrations have led to series of violence reprisals by law enforcement; PEN America demands the Indian government protect free speech and a free press
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — PEN America is deeply concerned by the crackdowns taking place against peaceful protesters, journalists, and activists in India, where millions of people have convened off- and online to express concerns about the country’s new farming laws. In what has reportedly become the largest protest in human history, millions of Indian farmers have demonstrated since September 2020, continuing to assemble even as police violence and online censorship have escalated. PEN America supports those peacefully exercising their right to free expression in India, and calls on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to halt police violence against nonviolent protesters and allow journalists to report freely.
“We are disturbed by the violence endured by peaceful protesters and restrictions placed on journalists and online expression in India over recent months,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s free expression at risk programs. “By suppressing free expression and independent investigation of these human rights abuses, the Indian government’s actions fly in the face of what should be considered legitimate discourse in the world’s largest democracy. Prime Minister Modi has a moral and legal obligation to protect the right to speak, report, and receive information on these protests. The Indian government must be held accountable for restricting this ability and resorting to reprehensible abuses of power instead of allowing dissent and debate.”
Protestors have endured tear gas, water cannons, petrol bombs, and abductions. To stifle news coverage of these demonstrations and responses by police, the government has enacted internet and electricity blackouts at protest sites. Moreover, at least eight journalists who critiqued the government via their reporting have been kidnapped, detained, arrested, and tortured. Cement walls and metal spikes have been erected around New Delhi to prevent journalists and some of Delhi’s own citizens from entering and investigating conditions at the central protest sites. A notable instance of the government’s violent attempts to silence protestors is that of Dalit labor activist Nodeep Kaur, who was arrested during a sit-in outside a factory and reportedly beaten and tortured by police while detained. Fellow inmates sent a message to Kaur’s family that her legs were bleeding profusely and she could hardly walk. On Saturday, climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested and remains detained after publishing an information toolkit about the protests online.
Increasingly, the suppression of voices on the ground has been accompanied by censorship online. Pro-government propaganda and calls for violence are spreading on Twitter, while the government is simultaneously pressuring the platform to suspend protestors’ accounts under accusations of encouraging violence and spreading misinformation. Because Twitter has refused Modi’s pleas to delete accounts of journalists and activists who are exercising their right to criticize the government, the prime minister is now threatening to imprison Twitter’s Indian content moderators in an overt attempt to control the narrative.
“We demand that the heedless charges facing peaceful protesters and journalists, including Dharmender Singh, Mandeep Punia, Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, Vinod K. Jose be dropped, and that any journalist detained for covering these protests be released,” said Karlekar. “No journalist should be penalized for doing their job.”