A year after Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her home in Bengaluru, many other journalists continue to face death threats, attacks and false charges, Amnesty International India said Wednesday, asserting it is a “dangerous” time to speak truth to authorities in India.
The rights body said attacks on journalism not only stifle the constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression but also have a “profound silencing effect”.
It cited the house arrest of civil liberties activist Gautam Navlakha and Left-leaning poet Varavara Rao on charges of having ties with Maoists as examples of crackdown on free speech. Lankesh, known for her strong anti-Hindutva views, was gunned down on September 5 last year outside her Rajarajeshwari Nagar residence. Some of the people arrested in the case are allegedly linked to Hindu rightwing groups.
A year after the killing, the SIT investigating the case said the probe is in the final stage and a chargesheet will be filed in two months. “Gauri Lankesh’s death anniversary is an occasion for us to introspect on how people who expose the truth, including journalists and whistle-blowers, are increasingly under attack in India.
“While it is heartening that the investigation into Gauri Lankesh’s murder seems to be progressing, investigations into several other attacks on journalists and whistle-blowers have yielded precious little. It is a dangerous time for anyone who speaks truth to power in India,” said Aakar Patel of Amnesty India.
According to Reporters Without Borders, in the first six months of 2018, at least four journalists have been killed in India and at least three more have been physically attacked.
Several other journalists have received threats for journalism that is critical of the State. In August, two journalists were arrested in a nationwide crackdown on human rights defenders, Amnesty India said in a statement.
“Journalism cannot be suppressed by those refusing to acknowledge the truth,” Patel said, adding, “This occasion is also a good time to call for investigations into all attacks on journalists.”
Amnesty India said Lankesh’s killing is part of a growing pattern of attacks on journalists in the country. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked India 12th in its 2017 Global Impunity Index, which ranks countries where the murder of journalists are least likely to be prosecuted.
According to data available with the National Crime Records Bureau, between 2014 and 2017, as many as 204 attacks against mediapersons have been registered in India. India’s position among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index has gone from 136 in 2017 to 138 in 2018, the body said.
It pointed out besides journalists, others who expose corruption and rights violations like whistle-blowers and Right to Information (RTI) activists are also being targeted.
Around 14 cases of attacks against whistle-blowers and RTI activists were recorded in 2017 according to National Crime Records Bureau data, it said, adding that activists say the actual number could be much higher. The Whistle Blowers Protection Act, 2014 has not been operationalised and the Union government has proposed amendments that will dilute the protection provided by the Act, and drastically increase the risks for whistle blowers, the body added.