Human rights activists are withstanding an assault on the values of liberal democracy.
On Thursday, Nov. 12, the Indian Supreme Court intervened to release Arnab Goswami, a controversial media executive who is also the principal anchor of his network, Republic TV, from a Mumbai jail where he was arrested on charges of abetment to suicide. In granting him bail, Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud rhetorically asked: “If constitutional courts don’t protect liberty, who will?”
The court’s enthusiasm for individual liberty would have sounded more sincere if it extended similar courtesy to the dozens of human-rights defenders, academics, writers, and journalists who have been jailed for months: Their trials remain pending, and Indian courts have shown no sense of urgency to take on their cases. Indeed, on Nov. 21, while hearing the case of another journalist in jail—Siddique Kappan—the court complained of “unfair reporting” even as it finally gave lawyers permission to meet Kappan, who remains in jail. Kappan was jailed on so-called sedition charges as he was travelling to India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, to report on the story of the rape and death of a young Dalit (as those at the bottom of Hinduism’s caste hierarchy are known) woman.
Many, including international press freedom organizations, have spoken out for both Kappan and Goswami. But Goswami, who was arrested on charges that had nothing to do with journalism, is now free, whereas Kappan remains in custody. The saga of Goswami’s arrest is complicated: Goswami’s network has run a sustained campaign against the opposition-ruled Maharashtra state (India’s wealthiest) over the suicide of an actor, alluding to the fact that that the death may have been due to a murder. Goswami’s supporters—and there are millions—insist Goswami is being framed in another suicide case because of what they call his heroic journalism.