A Delhi official approved the prosecution of Booker prize-winning author Arundhati Roy on Tuesday based on charges of sedition. Roy and her three co-defendants, Delhi University lecturer Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, Kashmiri separatist leader Sayed Ali Shah Geelani and Central University of Kashmir law professor Sheikh Showkat Hussain, are accused of criticizing the Indian government’s policy towards Kashmir in a 2010 speech.
Under the Indian Criminal Procedure Code, officials are required to bring a valid sanction for offenses such as hate speech, hurting religious sentiments, hate crimes, sedition, waging war against the state and promoting enmity among others, before proceeding to prosecution. As of Tuesday, Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Vinai Kumar Saxena officially granted approval for the authorities to proceed with a sedition case against Roy and her co-defendants. Since the 2010 speech, however, Sayed Ali Shah Geelani and Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani have died.
Roy has long been a critic of Prime Minister Narandra Modi. But such criticism has become increasingly limited under the government’s crackdown on dissent. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), press freedom in India is currently “in crisis.” The Editors Guild of India (EGI) has also condemned the recent spate of raids and arrests of journalists within the country. In a recent statement, EGI said:
EGI is concerned that these raids are yet another attempt to muzzle the media. While we recognise that the law must take its course if actual offences are involved, the due process has to be followed. The investigation of specific offences must not create a general atmosphere of intimidation under the shadow of draconian laws, or impinge on the freedom of expression and the raising of dissenting and critical voices.
In January 2022, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Modi’s government had given up on the appearance of condoning dissent. HRW noted that the government crackdown included attacks on minorities, draconian counterterrorism laws, tax raids, foreign funding regulations and charges based on financial irregularities.