The call comes as India is placed almost at the bottom of the Press Freedom index for 2022.
In a series of tweets, the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed solidarity with journalists who are facing persecution and violence for the work they do. USCIRF has particularly called out India for targeting and detaining journalists for reporting on abuses towards non-Hindu and marginalised communities.
“On World Press Freedom Day, USCIRF stands with journalists who document religious freedom persecution & violence. Particularly in India where journalists reporting on abuses towards Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Sikhs & Adivasis are targeted & detained by the government,” they said on a social media platform, Twitter post.
The Commission has also named Siddique Kappan, who is being held on charges relating to sedition, conspiracy to incite violence, outraging religious feelings and terrorism. He was arrested on 5 October 2020 when he was on his way to report on a rape case of a Dalit girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh.
“Siddique Kappan, a Muslim journalist, known for reporting on religious issues, was arrested on his way to Hathras UP to cover a Dalit rape case that sparked nationwide protests. He was accused of only reporting “to incite Muslims.”
USCIRF has also called out against the arrest of Kishor Ram, a reporter with the privately-owned news website Janjwar. The Uttarakhand police have accused him of promoting enmity between castes in two articles that he has written. One article featured interviews of family members of a Dalit man who was murdered, and the other article was an interview with the father of a Dalit girl who had allegedly been raped.
“In February 2022, Kishor Ram, a Dalit journalist known for reporting on marginalised classes & lower caste issues, was arrested after bringing up caste during interviews with the families of Dalits who had been murdered & raped,” the USCIRF tweet read.
Only yesterday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) had unveiled its 2022 Press Freedom index, where India was placed at 150 out of 180 countries.
Just seven days ago, on 25 April, USCIRF had released its 2022 Annual Report, which documents developments in international religious freedom from 2021. The report criticised the Indian government for repressing critical voices— “especially religious minorities and those reporting on and advocating for them—through harassment, investigation, detention, and prosecution under laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and the Sedition Law.”
The report recommended to the US government to designate India as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) and advised the US Congress to “raise religious freedom issues in the U.S.-India bilateral relationship and highlight concerns through hearings, briefings, letters, and congressional delegations.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also criticised India’s dismal data on Press Freedom in a report titled, Attacks on the Press in 2021. It has listed India at 12th position for imprisoning 7 journalists in 2021, while China has taken the top position with 50 imprisoned journalists and Saudi Arabia coming 8th on the ladder.
Among the seven journalists they have cited that have been incarcerated in India as of 2021 are Manan Gulzar Dar, Siddique Kappan, Rajeev Sharma, Aasif Sultan, Anand Teltumbde and Tanveer Warsi.
According to the CPJ report, five Indian journalists were also allegedly killed in relation to their work in 2021. They are – Sulabh Srivastava, Chennakeshavalu, Manish Kumar Singh, Raman Kashyap and Avinash Jha. India occupies 2nd place, after Mexico on this list.