New Delhi, June 16, 2020 – Indian authorities should immediately drop all criminal investigations into journalist Vinod Dua, and officials of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party must stop harassing him over his work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 12, Himachal Pradesh police arrived at Dua’s home in Delhi and issued him a summons for questioning in response to a defamation and sedition complaint, he told CPJ in a phone interview. Dua appealed to the Supreme Court, which on June 14 ordered police not to arrest him until the court issued further instructions, according to a copy of the court order, which CPJ reviewed.
Dua anchors The Vinod Dua Show, a weekly political opinion and analysis program, for the privately held HW News Network.
The court order permitted police to question Dua via video conference, but the journalist told CPJ they have not done so. The court order did not dismiss the complaints, which were filed against Dua by Ajay Shyam, a local official in the Bharatiya Janata Party, according to reports by The Hindu newspaper and The Wire news website.
Police are investigating him for alleged sedition, defamation, creating public nuisance, and for making statements “conducing to public mischief,” according to those reports. If charged and convicted for sedition, Dua could face up to life in prison, according to reports.
The next hearing on the investigation is scheduled for July 6, according to The Hindu.
“Bharatiya Janata Party officials should stop filing frivolous complaints against Vinod Dua and other journalists, which are clear attempts to silence critical reporting,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, in New York. “Criticism goes hand in hand with democracy, and is not a seditious act. The investigations into Dua’s work should be dropped immediately.”
Shyam filed his complaint on May 6 in response to Dua’s criticism of the government’s handling of riots in Delhi in a March 11 broadcast of “The Vinod Dua Show,” according to The Hindu and The Wire.
Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Naveen Kumar filed a similar complaint against Dua on June 4, accused him of destroying “the peaceful atmosphere of the country by spreading false news for his ulterior motive,” according to The Hindu.
On June 11, the Delhi High Court ordered the investigation initiated by Kumar’s complaint to be stayed, according to The Wire. Kumar told CPJ in a phone interview that he hopes Delhi police resume investigating his complaint.
“Let there be an investigation,” he said. “If I have filed a false complaint, there is provision in the law to take action against me once the investigation is over.”
CPJ sent an email to the Himachal Pradesh state director-general of police for comment, but did not receive a response. CPJ could not find contact information for Shyam.
This year, CPJ has documented a number of police investigations into journalists in India.
[Editors’ Note: This article has been changed to correct the spelling of Ajay Shyam’s name.]