December 17, 2018

Press Freedom

India

OPC Applauds India’s Effort to Repeal Defamation Laws

H.E. Pratibha Devisingh Patil
President
Republic of India
Fax: (011.91.11) 301.7290

H.E. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Republic of India
Fax: (011.91.11) 301.6857

Your Excellencies:

The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) welcomes your government’s recent decision to revise defamation laws within India’s legislative branch. This will ensure that India’s journalists are protected from criminal proceedings for simply doing their jobs. India’s Law and Justice minister, M Veerappa Moily, should be applauded for his commitment to end the prosecution of reporters performing their daily activities.

India is now in the forefront in demonstrating its commitment to democracy and free expression. We are hoping your government will therefore be swift in removing defamation as a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code, according to which a journalist could face imprisonment for up to two years if found guilty.

The OPC has repeatedly called for the de-criminalization of defamation world-wide. We have partnered with leading press freedom organizations across the globe to stress the urgency of avoiding defamation suits as a means of gagging the news media. We want to see governments completely eliminate so-called “insult laws” that protect public officials.

Surprisingly, it was not until 2009 that the United Kingdom became the first Western European country to de-criminalize defamation, while in Asia, your neighbor, Sri Lanka, ended its brutal law in 2002. Cambodia followed suit in 2006.

Nevertheless, the work of the news media has been continuously obstructed for many decades by the criminalization of defamation in countries including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Russia, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. In Russia, the government frequently intimidates and prosecutes journalists on charges of criminal defamation, extremism and threats to national security.

For example, only last week, the Eastern Africa Journalists Association condemned the imprisonment of two female journalists from the weekly, Umurabyo, in Rwanda. The journalists were sentenced to 17 years and 7 years, respectively, for defamation and inciting civil disobedience. In Uganda, five journalists were arrested in January for attempting to take pictures of officials from the ruling National Resistance Movement Party, who were allegedly putting out bribe supporters of its political rival, the Forum for Democratic Change. And in Ethiopia, the government has continued to postpone implementation of an effective mass media and freedom of information law.

The steps India has taken will prevent journalists from censoring themselves and will open up investigations into corruption. We must all promote your country’s efforts, so that other governments will take notice and work to prevent the arbitrary imprisonment of journalists world-wide.

Respectfully yours,

Tala Dowlatshahi
Kevin McDermott
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
152 South Block
New Delhi 110011
Republic of India

H.E. Meera Shankar
Ambassador of India to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Republic of India
2107 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 483.3972 or 265.4351

Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Republic of India to the United Nations
235 East 43th Street
New York , NY 10017
Fax: (212) 490.9656

H.E. Timothy J. Roemer
U.S. Ambassador to India
Embassy of the United States of America
Shanti Path, Chanakaya Puri
New Delhi 110021
India
Fax: (011.91.11) 241.9017

Maria Otero
Under Secretary of State for Democracy
and Global Affairs
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20520