The Uttar Pradesh Police filed an FIR against The Wire editor, Siddharth Vardarajan, over his comments on Twitter. The tweet claimed that the day the Tablighi Jamat was held Yogi Adityanath had insisted that the Ram Navami Mela would be held in UP from the 25th to the 2nd of March.
The FIR was filed by Nitish Srivastav, a resident of Faizabad, UP. In the FIR Srivastav claimed that Vardarajan wrote the tweet with the aim to spread rumours and hostility among the public. He claimed that this was an objectionable comment and had ‘caused anger amongst people.’ The FIR also mentioned the ‘objectionable comments’ made by the editor on Yogi Adiyanath’s involvement in the Ram Janmbhoomi event during the nationwide lockdown.
The FIR was filed under sections 188 (Disobedience to an order issued by a public servant) and 505 (2) (statements conducing to public mischief).
Vardarajan’s tweet was in reference to the Tablighi Jamaat incident. “On the day the Tablighi Jamaat event was held, Adityanath insisted a large Ram Navami fair planned for Ayodhya from March 25 to April 2 would proceed as usual and that ‘Lord Ram would protect devotees from the coronavirus’.” Vardarajan tweeted
Mrityunjay Kumar, the media advisor to Yogi Adityanath, took to twitter and asked Vardarajan to delete the tweet. “Do not try to spread lies. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had never said such a thing. Delete it immediately, otherwise, action will be taken and a case of defamation will also be imposed.”
Vardarajan followed his tweet with a correction “I should clarify that it was Acharya Paramhans, Hindutva stalwart and head of the official Ayodhya temple trust, who said Ram would protect devotees from coronavirus, and not Adityanath, though he allowed a public event on 25/3 in defiance of the lockdown and took part himself.” The FIR was filed soon after this clarification.
After the case was filed Mrityunjay Kumar said that despite warning neither did Vardarajan take the tweet down nor did he apologize.
The Wire put out a statement in response to the FIR. The statement said that the FIR ‘aimed at stifling legitimate expression and factual information.’ It also stated that this was a ‘blatant attack on freedom of the press’. It also criticized the UP Police ‘the UP police seems to think it is their job to go after those who criticize the CM.’
Attack on Freedom of press
In the past few weeks, there have been multiple means that the government has used to clamp down on media houses. Before the lockdown began, PM Modi got on a conference call with editors and owners of 20 media houses. He asked them to refrain from criticizing the government in relation to COVID and post only positive news. On the 31st of March, the Modi government also urged the Supreme court to direct media outlets to not publish any news about COVID-19 without confirming the facts with the government. The SC refused to ‘interfere with free discussion about the pandemic’ but directed media outlets to ‘refer and publish’ the official version about the developments of COVID-19. The danger in these directives by the government is that for the next few months, the lack of questioning voices in the media can lead to the government absolving itself all responsibility.