PEN Delhi is extremely concerned at the First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged against writer, translator and journalist Aakar Patel and journalist Vinod Dua.
Patel, also former India head of Amnesty International, has had an FIR lodged against him by a police inspector at JC Nagar police station, Bangalore— his local police station. The FIR was filed after Patel retweeted a tweet by the US news site Colorado Times Recorder with a comment saying: “We need protests like these. From Dalits and Muslims and Adivasis. And the poor. And women. World will notice. Protest is a craft.” What Patel was referring to was a video tweeted by the Colorado Times Recorder of a peaceful protest in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis, where thousands of protesters were lying face down with their hands behind their backs and chanting “I can’t breathe” for 9 minutes.
The FIR filed against Patel for this tweet demands that he be charged under sections 505 (1) (b) (with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the state or public tranquility), 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot) and 117 (abetting commission of an offence by the public or by more than ten persons) of the Indian Penal Code. PEN Delhi finds the charges requested by this FIR in the context of this tweet to be baseless and appeals that it be quashed by the authorities concerned.
PEN Delhi also notes with concern the blocking of Patel’s Twitter account in India upon the receipt of a “legal demand”, neither providing Patel any further details on why his account was blocked, nor providing him with a right to plead his side in the matter. Twitter is a leading information platform and – as such – must comply with principles of transparency and natural justice befitting it. PEN Delhi is relieved that Patel’s Twitter account has now been unblocked in India (though those in India still can’t see the tweets he had put out in the period in which his account was blocked).
An FIR has also been filed against Vinod Dua, by a politician of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in Himachal Pradesh, for a YouTube video he uploaded criticising the central government’s implementation of the COVID-19 lockdown. Following this FIR, Dua has been charged with offences under the Indian Penal Code, including sedition (section 124A), public nuisance (section 268), printing defamatory matter (section 501) and intent to cause public mischief based (section 505). A police team from Himachal Pradesh had landed at Dua’s house on June 12 for serving a notice requiring his presence at Kumarsain Police Station in the state at 10 am on June 13 for an investigation. A three judge bench of the Supreme Court has granted Dua protection from arrest till July 6, when the case will next be heard but refused to stay the police probe, saying that the police will be at liberty to interrogate Dua in Delhi, after a 24 hour notice.
Another FIR was filed against Dua by a different BJP politician, for allegedly misreporting the communal violence that took place in Delhi in February through a YouTube video. Pursuant to the FIR the police had registered a case against Dua charging him under sections 290 (punishment for public nuisance in cases not otherwise provided for), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief), 501 (printing defamatory matter) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) of the Indian Penal Code. But the Delhi High Court has stayed this investigation, saying it is likely to cause “unwarranted and unjustified” harassment to Dua.
PEN Delhi appeals that the charges against Dua, in context to the videos in question, be dropped as they amount to nothing short of harassment without just cause. It further notes that such FIRs as those filed against Patel and Dua can only have a chilling effect on free speech in the country.