European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
Rue de la Loi 200
President of the European Council Charles Michel
Rue de la Loi 175
May 6, 2021
Sent via email
Dear President von der Leyen and President Michel,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, writes to request that you emphasize the importance of press freedom and call for the release of all imprisoned journalists in India during the upcoming EU-India summit on May 8.
As India grapples with an astounding COVID-19 surge, the government has responded in part by attempting to clamp down on criticism and reporting. Unfortunately, this is not a new reaction. Last year, CPJ documented dozens of cases of journalists who were arrested, threatened, assaulted, and served legal notices over their coverage of the pandemic.
Police arrested Andrew Sam Raja Pandian, publisher of the Tamil Nadu-based news portal SimpliCity, after his outlet reported on alleged corruption by public officials in food distribution during the pandemic. Authorities launched a criminal investigation into Scroll.in journalist Supriya Sharma after she reported that residents of a village in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, had gone hungry during the COVID-19 lockdown. West Bengal police opened a criminal investigation into Anirban Chattopadhyay, then the editor of the Bengali-language daily Anandabazar Patrika, over COVID-19 related death toll figures reported by the newspaper. The clampdown on critical reporting during the pandemic has created conditions of fear and vulnerability among the journalist community that look likely to persist.
In times of crisis, it is even more important for the public to have access to trustworthy and accurate information and reporting. The European Union should emphasize this, and urge the Indian government not to interfere with or retaliate against journalists who are doing their jobs.
In addition, journalists in jail are at high risk of contracting the virus, and their detentions now pose a threat to their lives. India is currently holding at least four members of the press in prison because of their journalism. Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan has been jailed since August 27, 2018, after he wrote a story for the Kashmir Narrator magazine on Kashmiri militant leader Burhan Wani. Anand Teltumbde, a columnist and political commentator, was imprisoned on April 14, 2020, following his critical writing on the Modi government. On the same day, Gautam Navlakha was also arrested because of his journalism, which included writing on the disputed region of Kashmir and on Maoist separatists. Siddique Kappan, a regular contributor to the Azhimukham news portal, was arrested on October 5, 2020, on his way to report on an alleged gang rape and murder case in Uttar Pradesh.
Of these four journalists, Kappan has already contracted the virus and been hospitalized, and his lawyer recently reported that Kappan was chained to his hospital bed. Kappan did not commit any crime and was arrested for simply traveling on a reporting trip. He must receive the medical care of his choice. Teltumbde and Navlakha both have serious health concerns that place them at high risk for the virus. None of these journalists should ever have been jailed in the first place, have been repeatedly denied bail, and now face grave risks to their lives. All should be freed immediately.
The European Union must never compromise on defending democratic values and human rights. As leaders from both sides discuss the pandemic, trade, and the environment during this important summit, EU leaders should ensure that press freedom concerns are not sidelined, but prioritized, and make public and robust calls for India to release all journalists in detention.
Committee to Protect Journalists