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Friday, July 1, 2022

Pressure mounts on India, British Parliament may discuss farmer protest, internet clampdown

A panel of the British Parliament will consider a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons complex on the issue of farmers protests and press freedom in India after an online petition attracted over 106,000 signatures.

While the list of signatories for the e-petition also reflects a signature of Boris Johnson, in his capacity as a west London Conservative Party member of Parliament, Downing Street categorically denied that the UK Prime Minister had signed the petition.

India has called the remarks by foreign leaders and organisations on protests by farmers as “ill-informed” and “unwarranted”.

The Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi issued a statement on Wednesday to highlight that the Parliament of India had passed “reformist legislation” for the agricultural sector, which “a very small section of farmers” have some reservations about and therefore the laws have been kept on hold while talks are held.

In London, a UK government spokesperson said, “Media freedom is vital for the protection of human rights and journalists all around the world must be free to do their job and to hold authorities to account without fear of arrest or violence.”

“Free press plays a crucial role in our democracies and the government are putting their full weight behind this including through our membership of the Media Freedom Coalition,” the spokesperson said.

The petition on the official Parliament petitions website, entitled Urge the Indian Government to ensure safety of protesters & press freedom’, calls on the British government to make a public statement on the “#kissanprotests and press freedoms”.

All e-petitions on the Parliament website that cross the 10,000 signatures mark require the UK government to make an official statement and any petitions that cross 100,000 signatures must be considered for a debate. The House of Commons said the government’s response to the petition is expected later this month and the debate is under consideration.

“Petitions that receive 100,000 signatures will be considered for a debate in Parliament. Debates in Westminster Hall where petitions debates take place are currently suspended, but Committee will make an announcement on scheduling this debate as soon as possible,” a House of Commons spokesperson said.

Some of the signatories of the petition reflect names of cross-party parliamentarians including Indian-origin Opposition Labour Party MPs Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and Preet Kaur Gill, who have been particularly vocal over the issue on social media and most recently raised concerns over the blockage of “water, electricity and internet” to protesting crowds.

The Indian Journalists’ Association in the UK joined other international media organisations to express concern over the arrest of journalists and urged the right wing Narendra Modi government to ensure the safety of journalists in the country.

“The freedom of press is an important pillar of any democracy and authorities must ensure that journalists are able to do their jobs reporting accurately and without bias however challenging the circumstances, it said in a statement. 

Thousands of farmers have been camping at several Delhi border points since November last year, demanding the government to repeal the three farm laws, which farmers say are pro-corporate.

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