On 19th May, 2020 the Andhra Pradesh Government registered a criminal case under Sections 153 A, 188, 120 B and 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2008 against P. Ranganayaki (60) for sharing a post on her Facebook account expressing doubts about the way the investigation is being carried out in the LG Polymers styrene vapour leak case. This is just the latest in the long list of actions taken by the YSRCP Government to muzzle freedom of speech and expression, which is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India.
In October last year, Andhrajyothy journalist K. Satyanarayana was hacked to death in Tuni. A murder case has been registered against YSRCP legislator Dadisetti Ramalingeswara Rao. A few days prior a journalist working for Visalandhra was admitted to the hospital in a critical condition in Srikakulam after an alleged attack by YSRCP leaders. Another journalist Nagarjuna Reddy was attacked in September by assailants suspected to be connected to former MLA and current YSRCP leader Amanchi Krishna Mohan in Ongole. Ruling party MLA Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy was arrested in connection with the assault on Dolendra Prasad, editor of Zameen Rythu, a Telugu journal established in 1930 in Nellore district. Most recently, TV5’s offices were attacked in Hyderabad.
Many senior journalists and journalist unions across the State unanimously agree that the atmosphere for working journalists and ordinary citizens is extremely hostile. To gain legitimacy for such brazen attacks the YSRCP Government, during its meeting on October 16, 2019, gave a free hand to the secretaries of Government departments to initiate legal proceedings against media outlets which publish “baseless and defamatory” news; it issued GO No. 2430. Such reportage, the Government said, is done with an intention to bring down the morale of the Government and hamper development. Analysts and media organisations fear that the order could be used to stifle freedom of expression or go after journalists who are critical of the Government.
Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s attitude is nothing but a continuation of his father’s actions. In 2007, the then YSR Government passed a similar GO to muzzle press freedom under the garb of fighting yellow journalism but was eventually forced to put it in cold storage after severe protests from the media and civil society. It is important for the CM to remember that we live in a democratic and not a feudal society and such displays of intolerance to criticism undermines and scuttles constitutionally guaranteed rights to know, debate, differ, critique and dissent. These are quintessential rights necessary for the sustenance of a healthy and democratic society.