October 12, 2023: PEN International is deeply concerned by reports that the Indian authorities have approved the prosecution of writer Arundhati Roy over a speech she gave 13 years ago. We call on the Indian authorities to immediately cease the legal proceedings against her and to end its weaponization of the legal system against writers, journalists, and others who engage in peaceful expression. Criticism of the government is not a crime.
On October 10, 2023, the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi approved prosecution of Arundhati Roy and another individual on multiple charges in connection to a formal complaint (referred to as a First Incident Report, or FIR) that was registered against Roy and three others on 27 November 2010.
‘The sudden and unjust decision to pursue new charges against Arundhati Roy over a speech given in 2010 is a blatant attempt at intimidation and yet another example of how India’s legal system is being weaponized against critical voices. We call for an immediate halt to the legal proceedings and for an end to the weaponization of India’s legal system’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
The 2010 FIR concerns Roy’s participation at a conference on Kashmir that took place on October 21, 2010. It was organized by the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners and took place at a time of heightened unrest in the disputed territory, including mass protests that broke out in response to the Indian army’s killing of three Kashmiri civilians, which it originally falsely claimed were terrorists. During the conference, Roy gave a speech reflecting on the need for justice in Kashmir and criticizing the Indian government’s administration over the territory. Over the following thirteen years, no further action was taken by the authorities against Roy and three co-defendants (two of the co-defendants have died over the interim period). In August 2019, the Indian Government revoked the special status Kashmir enjoyed which gave the state substantial regional autonomy under its treaty of accession to India in 1947. The revocation of the status is currently undergoing a legal challenge in the Indian Supreme Court.
Roy and her co-defendant now face several charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), including dissemination of false information, giving a provocative speech, and promoting enmity between groups (Sections 153A, 153B, and 505 of the IPC). While the 2010 FIR originally accused Roy and her co-defendants of sedition (Section 124A of the IPC), the authorities have yet to pursue this charge while the validity of the Sedition Law is under review by India’s Supreme Court.
The sudden decision to pursue charges against Roy takes place just days after she participated in a peaceful demonstration outside the Press Club of India in New Delhi in protest against the mass raids against journalists, writers, and staff of independent media outlet, NewsClick.
For further information please contact Ross Holder, Head of the Asia/ Pacific Region at PEN International, email: firstname.lastname@example.org