UK MPs to debate press freedom, safety of protesters in India

LONDON: British lawmakers will debate the issue of press freedom and safety of protesters in India next Monday in response to an e-petition which had crossed the 100,000-signature threshold required for such a debate, the House of Commons Petitions Committee confirmed on Wednesday.

The 90-minute debate will be held at Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament complex in London and will be opened by Scottish National Party (SNP) MP and member of the Petitions Committee Martyn Day, and a minister will be deputed to respond on behalf of the UK government.

The debate relates to the petition entitled “Urge the Indian Government to ensure safety of protesters & press freedom’, which called on the British government to make a public statement on the #kissanprotests & press freedoms.”

Next week, the issue will come up for debate and is expected to involve backbench MPs who have been vocal on the issue of farmers’ protests in India, including Opposition Labour MP Tan Dhesi.

India has emphasised that the protests by farmers must be seen in the context of India’s democratic ethos and polity and the Ministry of External Affairs said that some vested interest groups have tried to mobilise international support against the country.

“Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement last month.

Thousands of farmers have been camping at several Delhi border points since November last year, demanding the government to repeal three farm laws and provide them legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.

Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmer unions have not been able to resolve the deadlock.

“Media freedom and the right to protest are essential to robust democracies such as the UK and India. Governments have the power to enforce law and order if a protest crosses the line into illegality,” the UK government had said in its written response to the petition last month.

The response, necessitated after any e-petition on the Parliament website crosses the 10,000-signature mark, noted that the British government is conscious of the level of concern regarding the farmers’ protests in India and appreciates that there are strong feelings in Britain towards the issue as many British citizens have family ties to farming communities in India.

“We understand that the Government of India has held several rounds of talks with farmers’ unions, and that in January the Supreme Court put three farming laws on hold and designated an expert committee to scrutinise the laws,” according to UK government statement.

“The UK government will continue to follow the farmers’ protests closely. We respect that agricultural reforms are a matter for India, and will continue to champion human rights globally,” it adds.

Last month, the Indian High Commission in London had issued an open letter to another Labour MP, Claudia Webbe, after her several interventions over the issue on social media.

The letter, accompanied by a detailed fact sheet, read: “It is emphasised that the reforms, intended to protect and empower farmers in India are based on inputs from experts and recommendations by Committees that have analysed the specific challenges of the agricultural sector in India over the last 20 years.

“The efforts continue but Government of India is more than aware of efforts by vested interests abroad to fuel the protests through misinformation and incendiary assertions that are not helpful in progressing the dialogue between the protesters and government or addressing the issues through the democratic processes that our people have traditionally relied on.”

The Indian government last week said it has shown utmost respect for protests by farmers and has remained engaged in dialogue with them to address their concerns.


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