Indian authorities should not pursue criminal defamation charges against journalist Ravi Nair, and should ensure he can work free from legal harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On July 26, police in New Delhi ordered Nair to appear in a court in Gandhinagar, the capital of the western state of Gujarat, on July 29, according to multiple news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. The police presented Nair with a bailable arrest warrant, which required his presence in court but did not mandate his arrest, according to those sources.
Nair, a frequent contributor to the news websites The Wire, Newsclick, and Janata Ka Report, was summoned in response to a complaint filed in Gandhinagar by Adani Group, a multinational business conglomerate that he has covered in his reporting, according to those sources.
“The criminal defamation suit by Adani Group against freelance journalist Ravi Nair is an attack on press freedom and a part of the conglomerate’s tactic of initiating strategic litigation against journalists,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director, in Madrid. “India’s authorities must ensure that powerful business groups cannot abuse the country’s legal system to silence critics.”
Nair told CPJ that the arrest warrant did not specify how he had allegedly defamed the company, and said he had not seen a copy of Adani Group’s actual complaint. If charged and convicted of criminal defamation, he could face up to two years in prison and a fine under Indian law.
In 2019 and 2020, Nair published investigative reports about the company in Newsclick, in which he alleged that the company had used its political influence to secure the rights to develop and operate airports throughout India. Last July, he authored a two-part report about offshore investors in the company for AdaniWatch, a nonprofit news group that documents the conglomerate’s activities.
Adani Group, which is controlled by Gautam Adani, the fourth richest man in the world, has previously filed defamation suits against journalists including Bodhisatva Ganguli, Pavan Burugula, and Nehal Chaliawala of the Economic Times, Latha Venkatesh and Nimesh Shah of CNBC TV18, freelance journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, news website Newsclick, and the news magazine Economic and Policy Weekly.
CPJ emailed the Gandhinagar district court and Roy Paul, Adani Group’s associate vice president for corporate communication, for comment, but did not receive any replies.