The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked India to drop charges against Poonam Agrawal, a scribe with The Quint, who was booked under the Official Secrets Act.
CPJ, an independent organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, said in a statement: “Charging journalists with serious crimes for reporting on the military risks having a chilling effect on press freedom.”
The Official Secret Act 1923 is India’s anti espionage act held over from days of the British rule. It states that one cannot approach, inspect, or even pass over a prohibited government site or area.
Charges against Agrawal stem from her reporting on senior army officers’ alleged improper use of subordinate soldiers for personal work, known as the “Sahayak System”.
In a video report for The Quint (published Feb. 24 and taken down subsequently), the journalist is seen entering an Army camp in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, allegedly without permission, filming the premises, and using a hidden camera to record conversations with soldiers.
One of the soldiers she taped, Lance-Naik Roy Matthew, was found dead March 2, in what police have determined was a suicide, according to media reports. Charges for abetment to suicide have also been pressed against the journalist.
“This is nothing but an attempt by the Indian Army to shut up journalists from exposing wrongdoings in the institution,” Agrawal told CPJ. “It will set a very bad precedent, because in future, an editor or reporter will think twice before raising their voices against the Army.”
Meanwhile, social media is buzzing with demands for press freedom.