New Delhi, January 22, 2021 – Authorities in the Indian state of Gujarat should drop their arrest warrant for journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and the Adani Group conglomerate should stop trying to intimidate journalists with legal harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
The Adani Group initiated criminal and civil defamation suits in 2017 against Guha Thakurta and three of his colleagues at the Economic and Political Weekly, a peer-reviewed academic journal, over an article alleging that the company had used its political influence to obtain favorable government policies, according to news reports, CPJ documentation from 2017, and Anand Yagnik, Guha Thakurta’s lawyer, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. The cases against his colleagues were later dropped, according to those reports.
Guha Thakurta appeared at a hearing in the criminal case before the courts closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year; when courts re-opened in January 2021, he asked that his lawyer be able to attend them in his place, according to Yagnik. Guha Thakurta cited his age, 65, and the threats of traveling hundreds of miles from his home in New Delhi to the court in Gujarat during the pandemic in his request, his lawyer said.
On January 18, judicial magistrate Pradeep Soni refused that request and issued a warrant for Guha Thakurta’s arrest for failing to appear in court in the criminal defamation suit, according to various media reports. Under that warrant, the accused cannot seek bail until they are first arrested, according to Indian law.
“It is outrageous for authorities to issue arrest warrants for defendants who don’t want to risk their lives in a pandemic to attend defamation hearings,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Gujarat authorities should rescind the arrest warrant for Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and the Adani Group should immediately drop criminal proceedings and stop intimidating journalists.”
Police had not arrested Guha Thakurta as of today, his lawyer said.
Yagnik told CPJ that Guha Thakurta petitioned the Gujarat High Court to challenge the warrant, on the grounds that non-bailable arrest warrants are supposed to be used as a last resort in cases of an accused person found skipping legal proceedings.
CPJ emailed the Adani Group for comment but did not receive any response. CPJ emailed the Kutch district court at the address listed on its website, but did not immediately receive any reply.
Editor’s note: The number of Guha Thakurta’s colleagues who were targeted in criminal and civil defamation suits in 2017 has been corrected in the second paragraph. The number of hearings Guha Thakurta attended before the courts closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been corrected, as has the date the courts reopened in the third paragraph.