Uttar Pradesh police open criminal investigation into 3 Indian journalists

New Delhi, July 8, 2021 – Authorities in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh must immediately drop their criminal investigations into journalists Nidhi Suresh, Manoj Shukla and Yashwant Singh, and stop harassing members of the press for their work. Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 4, police in Shahjahanpur district in the state launched criminal libel investigations against Suresh, a reporter for the news site. Laundry, as well as Shukla, a journalist, and Singh, an editor, both on the news site Bhadas4Media, according to Thread and Suresh, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

The investigations stem from a defamation complaint filed against the three journalists by Deep Srivastava, a reporter for the private broadcaster News18, the sources said, and a copy of the criminal complaint, which CPJ reviewed. CPJ called and texted Srivastava for comment, but he did not respond.

If found guilty, Suresh, Shukla and Singh could face up to two years in prison and an unspecified fine under the Indian Penal Code.

“Although criminal defamation codes should never be used against journalists, it is particularly infuriating to see such laws enforced by colleagues in the press,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator in Washington, DC. “Uttar Pradesh authorities should drop their investigations of journalists Nidhi Suresh, Manoj Shukla and Yashwant Singh, and India should reform their defamation statutes so that disputes are dealt with under civil law, not criminal law.

In his criminal complaint, Srivastava alleged that Suresh falsely accused him on Twitter of extorting a woman, and that Shukla then repeated these accusations by reporting by Bhadas4Media.

Suresh told CPJ that she tweets were excerpts from a report she published in Laundry citing the alleged victim of the extortion and his lawyer.

Omkar Verma, the Shahjahanpur police officer leading the investigation, told CPJ by phone that he would drop the investigation if Suresh could prove that his tweets only relayed statements from the alleged victim and his lawyer .

Suresh told CPJ yesterday that police in Shahjahanpur had called her repeatedly to ask her to come for questioning, but she had not done so. Singh told CPJ by phone yesterday that the police had not contacted him or Shukla.

Suresh’s attorney, Nipun Katyal, told CPJ by phone that he believed police in Shahjahanpur district lacked the power to initiate investigations in the first place, saying the 2016 Supreme Court rulings and 2020 ruled that such investigations require a magistrate’s court order.

Verma declined to answer when CPJ asked if his office had received an order from a magistrate, and said the police station itself had opened an investigation.

Just last month, the Uttar Pradesh police opened criminal investigations into journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammed Zubair, as well as the news site Thread, as CPJ documented at the time.

Mark M. Gagnon