Indian reporter could be jailed for two years over four-year-old story

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the withdrawal of all charges against Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a journalist who could be arrested at any time under a warrant issued on 19 January by a court in the state of Gujarat, in western India, as a result of a libel action by the industrial giant Adani. The justice system is being manipulated, RSF says.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is the target of two legal actions – a civil defamation suit and a criminal defamation complaint – in connection with two articles about the Adani Group that he co-authored in January and June 2017 for Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), which he then edited, and for The Wire news site.

Fearing a gag order, EPW took both articles down, driving Thakurta to resign as editor. But The Wire kept both on its site, and a civil court confirmed the correctness of this decision in 2018 when it ruled, in connection with one of them, that it was not defamatory and could remain in place as long as a phrase and an adverb were deleted.

The Adani Group reacted to that ruling by withdrawing its suits against the two media outlets and the co-authors but not Thakurta. The arrest warrant issued this week by a court in Gujarat’s Kutch district is non-bailable and, if convicted on the criminal defamation charge, Thakurta could get a two-year jail sentence.

Persecution

“It is absolutely inconceivable that a journalist is to be arrested for an article published four years ago whose accuracy was confirmed by a civil court,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Everything suggests that the Adani Group is using the Kutch court to take its harassment of Paranjoy Thakurta to the extremes of persecution. The judges must put a stop to this witch-hunt by rescinding the arrest warrant at once.”

Thakurta is one of the targets of a gag order that an Adani Group subsidiary, Adani Power Rajasthan Limited, obtained from a court in the city of Hyderabad against the Newsclick website in connection with a series of articles that that he co-authored about a former supreme court judge’s rulings in favour of Adani. The court issued an ex-parte gag order that Newsclick is currently challenging.

India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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