New Delhi, June 13, 2019--Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath should immediately intervene and instruct state police to cease arresting journalists under defamation accusations after news reports of a new arrest earlier this week, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On Monday, Uttar Pradesh police arrested Anshul Kaushik, an editor with privately owned TV news station Nation Live, on charges of defaming Adityanath, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency. On June 8, two days before Kaushik's arrest in Noida, police arrested Kaushik's colleagues Anuj Shukla and Ishita Singh on similar charges.
"The Uttar Pradesh government and police must immediately end their witch hunt against Nation Live journalists," said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ's program director in New York. "Jailing journalists is a disproportionate response and has a chilling effect on the press."
The Gautam Buddh Nagar District Court in Surajpur ordered Kaushik to be held for 14 days pending police investigation, according to PTI.
On Sunday, CPJ reported that police claimed Nation Live "conducted a panel discussion without checking facts on 'defamatory allegations' made by a woman against the [chief minister]." Police stated that the alleged defamatory statements against Adityanath could have led to "a possible law and order situation."
On the same day as Shukla and Singh's arrests, Uttar Pradesh police also arrested freelance journalist Prashant Kanojia on related defamation charges after he posted footage from the discussion on social media. Kanojia was released on bail today after a Supreme Court order, according to Indian Express.
The police also sealed Nation Live's office in Noida on June 10 on charges that the station had been operating without a license, according to PTI, a claim which Nation Live station head Ajay Shah refuted in a video posted to his Facebook page on June 9. Shah added that the station had deleted the panel discussion from its YouTube channel after getting a call from Adityanath's office and stated that he was in hiding from police. Shah did not respond to CPJ's request for comment via Facebook. An email from CPJ to Adityanath's office seeking comment was not returned.
Police did not respond to a text message from CPJ seeking comment, but an unnamed police officer told PTI they were still looking for yet another editor.
CPJ has documented similar cases involving politicians in other parts of India in the past year. In October 2018, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh filed a criminal defamation case against Imphal Free Press over a report about his popularity. Last week, Karnataka police opened a similar defamation investigation against the editor of a Kannada-language newspaper for publishing a news article alleging conflict within the family of the state's chief minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy.