Freedom of expression in 'crisis'? India ranked below war-stricken Palestine, restive Congo at 123: Report

Population of people living in a crisis country rose 53% in 2023 due to India's fall from a highly restricted country to a crisis one. A mere 23% of the world population is living in open or less restricted environments while the rest are surviving in restricted or crisis-hit environments.
Last Updated : 23 May 2024, 18:00 IST
Last Updated : 23 May 2024, 18:00 IST

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A Global Expression Report by Article 19 has revealed that India's freedom of expression is in 'crisis'. The world's largest democracy has been ranked below war-stricken Palestine and restive Democratic Republic of the Congo at 123.

Established in 1987, Article 19 is an international human rights organisation that works to 'defend and promote freedom of expression and information' worldwide.

The report has distinguished the level of freedom in five categories-- crisis, highly restricted, restricted, less restricted and open. Out of the studied 161 countries, 39 are said to be in crisis, 24 highly restricted, 25 restricted, 35 less restricted, and 38 open.

Population of people living in crisis-hit countries rose 53 per cent in 2023 due to India's fall from a highly restricted country to one in crisis.

While the global expression score, which is the average country score and human score which is the score weighed by population, has remained stagnant for a year, expression scores have 'significantly declined' in the last decade, the report noted.

A mere 23 per cent of the world population is living under open or less restricted environments while the rest are surviving under restricted or crisis-hit environments.

Press freedom

India's decline in freedom of expression is alarming. In its World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders has labelled India's situation as "very serious". Out of 180 countries, it has been ranked 159.

In February 2023, journalist Shashikant Warishe of Mahanagari Times was killed after his reportage on a land dispute. He was allegedly killed by the land owner Pandharinath Amberkar, who was reportedly involved in illegal land grabs, Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

Additionally, 21 journalists were in detention, held hostage or disappeared in 2023.

In 2020, Kerala journalist Siddique Kappan working for the Azhimukham was on his way to meet the victim of the Hathras rape case (a 19-year-old Dalit girl who was brutally gangraped in Uttar Pradesh and lost her life two-weeks later) when he was arrested over his alleged link with the banned organisation Popular Front of India (PFI). Kappan was granted bail in December 2022, however, he walked out of Lucknow district jail in February 2023. Authorities said that there was a delay in "verification of the sureties". Kappan flashed a victory sign upon coming out of jail and said that his "fight will continue".

Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan was arrested in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in September 2018 when he was working for local magazine Kashmir Narrator. It was said that Sultan is linked to a banned militant group. However, in April 2022, Jammu and Kashmir High Court ruled that investigative agencies "failed to establish his links with any militant group" and granted him bail. Days later, he was again arrested, this time under Public Safety Act (PSA). He served his time in Uttar Pradesh's Ambedkar Nagar district jail until February 29 this year when he was released and went back home. His family's joy did not even last a whole day because on March 1 he was yet again arrested in another case.

Finally on May 10, the Special Judge Designated Under NIA Act Srinagar granted him bail, according to Live Law.

In 2022, Amnesty International also addressed this issue by bringing in light the reaction of different human rights organisations on the state of freedom of expression in India. Amnesty report noted that ten organisations have urged the central government to "protect the right to freedom of expression, including by immediately releasing journalists who are arrested for their critical reporting, ending broad and indiscriminate internet shutdowns, withdrawing the media policy in Jammu and Kashmir, and repealing the Information Technology Rules".

Published 23 May 2024, 18:00 IST

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