On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, South Asia Media Defenders Network (SAMDEN) and Himal Southasian present #JournalistsOnTrial – a collaborative effort to document legal attacks against journalists across the region, starting with Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Violence and physical reprisals against journalists and media organisations working in Southasia are not new. Neither are the instances of intimidation by the state and imprisonment of journalists. However, what is increasingly becoming common, and yet not adequately reported and documented, are the legal and bureaucratic tools used to silence journalistic voices.
There is a growing pattern of governments and corporations in Southasia – and indeed, around the world – of abusing laws on cybersecurity, national defence and defamation to stifle journalistic work. Governments rely less on overt censorship, and instead pursue ‘legal’ routes – including false and malicious cases – to attack journalists and media groups, circumventing the usual protections afforded by press laws. Large corporations, meanwhile, have taken to bombarding journalists and media organisations with drawn-out, exhausting and expensive lawsuits to drain their already limited resources.
In some cases, such lawsuits are not directly related to journalistic work and it is extremely difficult to determine whether the case is a legally sound one, or an abuse of the law. However, a simple documentation of such cases can illustrate the pattern behind such attacks, which readers can draw their own conclusions from, for it is often the process and not the outcome of such legal attacks that is the killer.
The following database of cases against journalists, some of them ongoing, is by no means exhaustive. Documenting these cases was extremely difficult because of the limited reporting and the lack of information in the public domain. It is, however, a step in highlighting the many ways in which litigious harassment is being used to attack free and independent media and we invite you to build this list by adding cases or sending us further information on the cases we have listed so far. You can do that by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.