Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.
We, the undersigned, write with great concern regarding the situation of journalist Arnab Goswami who has been detained under Judicial Custody and sent to Taloja jail. We believe his detention is unfounded and designed to punish him for speaking the truth against very powerful and influential people in the state of Maharashtra.
Freedom of the media is essential to enable democratic, free and participative societies. Journalism enriches our understanding of every kind of political, economic and social issue; it delivers crucial – and, in the context of this pandemic, life-saving – information; and helps keep governance, at every level, transparent and accountable.
The safety of journalists, and their ability to pursue investigations and disseminate information without censorship or threats, is a key element for the realization of the Agenda for Sustainable Development. Indeed, the SDGs explicitly require fulfilment of the right to freedom of information and other fundamental human rights.
But the action against Arnab Goswami has exposed this massive flaw in the legal system of this country. He has faced censorship, surveillance, repression, intimidation and physical attacks by the Maharashtra led govt. The type of attack on Arnab Goswami appears to be perpetrated by organised crime, mafia groups or other private actors, including organised crime drugs businesses – and it has also been instigated and condoned by government officials.
The Maharashtra govt appears to have seized on this public health crisis as an excuse for much wider – and unjustifiable – crackdowns on criticism and dissent. These measures include shutting down media offices, closing websites, Internet shutdowns and other forms of censorship, and the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists like Arnab Goswami in dangerous and crowded detention centres like Taloja. These practices disproportionately restrict the enjoyment of freedom of the media and contravene international law.
We need to be very clear that these actions harm the public at large ; harm development; harm human rights and democracy – and benefit only the narrow and short-term interests of a few individuals who want to be shielded from review.
Access to accurate and reliable information is a human right, and it forms the foundation for many other fundamental rights. It is crucial to people's capacity to participate in decisions that affect their lives, and to maintaining the responsiveness, accountability and transparency of government.
No journalist or media worker should be criminalized or harassed because of their reporting. Every arrest, and every attack against journalists, sends a message across society: the search for truth, and the rights to be informed, to express oneself and to participate are not protected by the authorities. Unfortunately, the actions of the Maharashtra led govt are contrary to all principles of law and natural justice.
It is our shared responsibility to reverse these worrying trends. The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide. It includes many practical recommendations – and it is essential that States and other stakeholders act on these commitments they have made.
I am convinced we can advance a vision of journalism as a space of freedom and rights, for the benefit of all and we demand the release of Arnab Goswami immediately. Arnab Goswami’s life is in danger and his imminent release is in the interest of principles of natural justice.