CPJ said it wanted the US to make India’s media crackdown “a central part of the discussion”.
The US government should press Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to end a so-called media crackdown as it calls for the release of six journalists “arbitrarily detained in revenge for their work”, a prominent news watchdog said.
In a statement released on Wednesday ahead of Modi’s state visit to the White House next week, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists critical of the Indian government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been jailed, harassed and surveilled.
“Since Prime Minister Modi came to power in 2014, the crackdown on Indian media has intensified,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“India is the largest democracy in the world, and it needs to do this by ensuring a free and independent media — and we want the US to make that a central element of the discussion,” she said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called for the release of six journalists, four of them from Indian-administered Kashmir – Asif Sultan, Sajad Ghul, Fahd Shah and Irfan Mehraj. The other two are Gautam Navlakha and Rupesh Kumar Singh.
The press freedom watchdog said they had been “targeted by draconian security laws” and that Shah faced trial over an article published in 2011 by his online magazine, The Kashmir Walla. It said five other journalists remained in pretrial detention.
CPJ has also blasted routine police raids and income tax investigations of domestic and foreign media, including the BBC, whose offices in New Delhi and Mumbai were raided after it showed a documentary critical of Modi.
“Foreign journalists say they face growing visa uncertainty, restrictions on access to several parts of the country, including Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, and even threats of deportation in retaliation for critical reporting in recent years. ,” the CPJ statement said.
Since 1992, 62 journalists have been killed on the job in India, which ranked 11th on the Impunity Index last year, the watchdog said.
India’s internet shutdown for the fifth consecutive year in 2022 hinders press freedom and the ability of journalists to work freely, the report said.
Journalist and member of the Press Club of India, Prashant Tandon, told Al Jazeera that journalists face enormous pressure, especially from those critical of the government.
“There’s unannounced censorship for any kind of dissent, aside from documenting journalists in pointless cases and putting them in jail,” Tandon said. “Democracy cannot function without a free press.”
Violations of civil rights when state apparatuses are involved can no longer be a domestic issue, Tandon said.
“Global media outlets and organizations like CPJ that are committed to protecting journalists should raise the voices of Indian journalists in every possible forum,” he said.
Al Jazeera contacted a BJP spokesman who said he had not seen the CPJ report and could not comment on it.