Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty, has questioned the democracy in India particularly under the Centre’s Narendra Modi government for the systemic rise in attacks on media personnel and attempts to curb free press.
Speaking exclusively to Janta Ka Reporter’s editor-in-chief, Rifat Jawaid during the Global Media Forum in Germany, Shetty expressed his concern over how journalists, who criticised the government were regularly being labelled as anti-nationals.
The trend is similar to that of Zimbabwe under its despot Robert Mugabe, whose supporters are often quick to dismiss the critics of the government as non-patriots.
Shetty said that journalists being labelled as anti-nationals by the supporters of the Modi government should take the comments as ‘badge of honour.’
He was responding to an intervention by Rifat during the conference, which was attended by 1900 journalists from 100 countries.
Rifat’s intervention came during a session titled ‘How powerful are the powerful-the limits of international cooperation in a polarized world.’ The panel included Goncalo Lobo Xavier from European Economic and Social Committee, Nick Nuttall from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Salil Shetty, and Veronica Pountcheva, Senior Vice President of Metro Group.
In his commentary, Rifat said that the plight of journalists under the current regime was no different to that of the media persons working in Zimbabwe, Turkey or parts of the Arab World adding that it had become a fashion for the supporters of the Indian government to label the critics as anti-nationals. (Watch the video below)
Responding to his observations, Shetty said, “I don’t know if you know that Amnesty International has been hounded inside India. We’ve had sedition charge attempted to be put on us. By the way, this is a badge of honour. If the current government is attacking you, you should be proud…If you are being treated as anti-nationals, you must be doing something useful.”
Shetty also said that just because India has had too many elections, there was a perception that it was a democracy adding that ‘a very sophisticated narrative on India being put forward before the world.’
He said, “I think there’s been an era of hyper-nationalism. There’s a very sophisticated narrative on India being put forward before the world. And because we’ve had elections for long time, somehow people think we are a democracy. But we are a long long away from that. Any observers, who are looking beyond the headlines, know that the truth. You can’t fool all the people all the time. But we are very conscious of everything that you said.”
Speaking to Rifat, the Amnesty boss later said that it was wrong to have singled out the BJP for the attack on media.
“My father was a journalist and he was arrested for speaking against the atrocities on Sikhs in Haryana… And that was very much Congress regime… But right now you do have an RSS-BJP regime, which has Hindutva view of the country. They have their own definition on what nationalism is…But the more worrying bit is that they such strong urban middle-class support.
“Our job should be to report the truth in ethical manner…There will be consequences.. They are not leaving even some of the powerful houses such as NDTV, let alone the small actors. I think we have to press on. That’s our job.”
Last month’s edition of Global Media Forum organised by Deutsche Welle, the public broadcaster of Germany. Deutsche Welle has been organising this event for ten years to provide a platform to journalists and activists working towards freedom of speech to discuss issues faced by them.