New York, May 18, 2016 — Indian authorities should immediately release Pushp Sharma, who is being held in pretrial detention for alleged forgery and incitement, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in Delhi arrested Sharma, a journalist for The Milli Gazette, a biweekly, English-language publication aimed at Indian Muslims, on May 14, on suspicion that he fabricated a document in a March 11 article claiming the government discriminates against Muslims. The document, which Sharma said was from the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homeopathy (AYUSH) purported to show that the ministry denies Muslims jobs as yoga trainers, according to press reports.
On May 16, Sharma’s detention was extended for two more weeks, Sharma’s editor at The Milli Gazette, Zafarul-Islam Khan, told CPJ in an email. “This extension can go on and on for years until the sentence is pronounced. We tried to get bail for Sharma but this was rejected by the magistrate on 16 May,” Khan said.
“Pushp Sharma should not be held behind bars while he waits for the courts to adjudicate the case against him,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz said. “The journalist is not a danger and he presents little risk of flight. We call on Indian authorities to release him immediately.”
In a statement issued on March 12, the ministry described Sharma’s article as “mischievous” and aimed at “promoting disharmony and mistrust with ulterior motives,” and said the document he adduced to back up the claim was “fabricated,” according to The Indian Express daily newspaper. In a statement published on The Milli Gazette‘s website on March 16 after police first questioned him about the article, Sharma stood by his reporting.
Police in March charged The Milli Gazette with “promoting hatred among communities,” under article 153A of the Indian Penal Code, and with forgery, according to press reports. Khan, Sharma’s editor, told CPJ that police questioned him and Sharma in connection with those charges, prompting Sharma to apply for anticipatory bail.
In a statement published on The Milli Gazette‘s website, Khan called the ministry’s criminal complaints “clear attempts to stifle freedom of the press.”