Republic of India
Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review
41st Session of the UPR Working Group
Report on Freedom of Expression and Opinion in India
Submitted by: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and Human Rights Defenders’ Alert-India (HRDA) with co-sponsorship of additional 2697 organisations and 1457 individuals (full list available in annex 1).
Submitted on 31 March 2022
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Human Rights Defenders’ Alert – India (HRDA)
About the submitting organisations:
- The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
- Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) – India is a national platform of human rights defenders for human rights defenders in India. Founded in 2010, it has more than 3000 individuals and organisations as members. HRDA initiates urgent action for the protection of human rights defenders under threat and attack.
- This report is submitted by FORUM-ASIA, HRDA and FORUM-ASIA’s member organisations in India.
- This joint submission in endorsed by additional 2697 organisations and 1457 individuals, including 2219 organisations and 1032 individuals that have opted to stay anonymous for fear of reprisals (full list available in annex 1).
Report on Freedom of Expression and Opinion
- This joint submission was prepared by FORUM-ASIA and HRDA based on research from credible sources of information, including the government, international organisations, media reports, academic publications drawn from the public domain. In addition, inputs from experts and human rights defenders from all over India were sought through a national consultation that was jointly conducted by FORUM – ASIA and HRDA on October 13, 2021, held for the purpose of this submission. Around 100 participants, all experts working substantially on the freedom of expression and opinion, took part in the consultation and many inputs and remarks were consolidated during this process for drafting this report.
- During the previous Universal Periodic Review (UPR), India received recommendations to guarantee freedom of expression, promote meaningful dialogue that allows freely organised advocacy of diverging views by civil society, protect minorities from hate speech, carry out independent investigation into attack on journalists and ensure that limiting freedom of expression on the Internet is based on clearly defined criteria which is in accordance with international human rights law. India noted these recommendations. During the second UPR, India had accepted a recommendation to ensure a safe working environment for journalists.
- This report emphasizes the status of freedom of expression and opinion in India since the previous UPR in 2017. This report highlights the legal framework of the right to freedom of speech and expression in India, political context and threats to exercising the right. In particular, the prevalence of hate speech, violation of press freedoms and threats to journalists, restrictions on digital freedom and internet access, persecution of critical voices using criminal laws is looked at, using illustrative cases.
- Legal Framework on the Right to Freedom of Expression and Opinion
- Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression. Reasonable restrictions through law are permissible in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. India is also bound by international law covenants which guarantee the freedom of expression and opinion.
- Political context and the overall status of the right to freedom of expression and opinion
- In its latest report, V-Dem Institute has downgraded India to ‘electoral autocracy’. Freedom House in its annual report downgraded India from ‘free democracy’ to ‘partly free democracy’. Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit of the United Kingdom has classified India as a ‘flawed democracy’. Reporters Sans Frontiers places India at 142nd rank (out of 180 countries) in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index among 180 countries. It is considered one of the most dangerous places for journalists to carry out their work. There is a marked, consistent decline in rankings: from 2016 when India was ranked 133, and 2017 when it was ranked 136 out of 180 countries.
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that India has the highest number of journalists killed in retribution for their work. According to CPJ, four journalists in India were murdered in 2021 in “retaliation” for their work, whereas one more journalist died on a “dangerous assignment”.
- India Press Freedom Report 2020, published by the think tank, Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) reported that 228 journalists were targeted in the year 2020 out of which the State actors targeted 114.