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DUJ Protest Attacks on Press Freedom and Democratic Right of Dissent

“Release Prabir Purkayastha”, “Protect Journalists’ Livelihoods” “Save Journalism for Tomorrow”, “ Protect Press freedom and Working JournalistAct” , “we say no to repressive press laws”, were major demands raised at a meeting held by the Delhi Union of Journalists at the Press Club of India on

March 16, 2024. The jampacked meeting was addressed by leading journalists, leaders of central trade unions and representatives of organisations of women and youth, besides veteran journalist and editor The wire Siddharth Varadarajan , Paranjoy Guha Thakurta , Press Club President Gautam Lahiri, KUWJ Delhi Unit General Secretary Dhanasumod, NAJ President S.K.Pande, DUJ President Sujata Madhok, DUJ General Secretary Jigeesh, Nandita Narain DTF leader, and social activists besides others.

In his opening remarks Dr.Ashok Dhawale of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha condemned the government’s twin policies of repression on the one hand and divide and rule on the other. Repression was evident in the treatment of farmers’ struggles and divide and rule through communalization of the people, he said. He also referred to the growing riches and clout of the crony corporates but said resistance by the people is growing and even the mainstream newspapers are forced to acknowledge this e.g. by covering the recent farmers’ mahapanchayat in the city.

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Dr. Dhawale expressed solidarity with Prabir Purkayastha and victimized Newsclick staff, pointing out the positive role of the organisation. He said only PARI and Newsclick had initially covered the farmers’ long march in Maharashtra until it grew so big that eventually the mainstream media could no longer ignore it.

Gautam Lahiri, President of the Press Club of India, said it is time for the media to come together and protest against attacks. He said during the forthcoming elections journalists must report freely and fairly in the festival of democracy. A sharp eye should be kept on EVMs and VVPats. He said the PCI would set up a ‘war room’ for election coverage and asked people to send it videos and reports if they were censored by their organisations.

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Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of The Wire, said the BJP is now worried about winning the elections. He also spoke of the prolonged incarceration of journalists including Prabir Purkayastha who has been in jail since October 2023, Asif Iqbal of Kashmir who is facing ‘revolving door’ arrests, Siddique Kappan who was in jail for a long time and still has to fight the UAPA case against him.

He referred to the repression of the farmers’ struggles including the recent crackdown in which one person died and many were injured. He said not only were they not permitted to come to Delhi, they were not allowed to even tweet or send out videos. The dangerous censorship now being imposed on social media includes the taking down of some 200-250 social media handles covering the farmer struggle under government instructions.

Varadarajan also said that Caravan magazine’s expose on military torture of civilians in Kashmir was removed from the Internet. The Wire carried some extracts in solidarity but also received a notice threatening closure of the website and was forced to take it down. Hower the Wire would challenge this censorship in court, he said. Hannan Mollah, leader of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, called for a full fight against fascism, an “aar paar ki ladaii” and said people must be ready for every sacrifice in this fight.

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Gautam Modi of the New Trade Union Initiative said trade unions are a creature of democracy. We must struggle to build and defend our unions, if we are to build democracy itself. He pointed out that the sad state of unions in the media has left journalists defenceless. Defenceless journalists are speechless now. We must defend our journalists unions today, he said.
Dr. Nandita Narain, leader of the Democratic Teachers’ Front as well as the Joint Forum for Movement on Education, said it is sad to see men like Prabir Purkayastha, who is a patriot and a role model, thrust into jail. She referred to the Bhima Koregaon and other cases where several people including academics have been in jail for five years now. She welcomed the release of Professor Sai Baba on bail but said others too need to be released. She said a rare judgement of the Supreme Court on electoral bonds has brought some hope. She pointed to the dangers of EVMs that are being manufactured in suspicious conditions and said we must insist on ballot paper elections.

Senior Advocate P.V.Surendranath of the All India Lawyers’ Union said freedom must be defended at all costs and lawyers would be in the forefront of democratic struggles. He spoke of increasing dangers to democracy in these difficult times.

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Sankar Lal, leader of the All India Trade Union Congress, called for a determined joint struggle against anti-democratic and fascist forces in the country today. We must fight and win, he said. Veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta said the dawn raids on eighty people associated with Newsclick is meant to have a “chilling effect” on the entire media. The idea is to send out a warning to all journalists. Even those who formed a little known, loose association of activists before the 2019 elections, have been named in the FIR! He said no rules were followed when electronic devices including laptops, mobile phones, pen drives and other equipment were seized in the raids and these have not been returned. He also referred to the scandals being revealed through the Electoral Bonds data and said much more will become public soon.

Writer Githa Hariharan said the raids and imprisonment are meant to show that everyone is vulnerable now, no matter how privileged. She said Newsclick was an audacious 15 year old experiment to change the country. It is in jeopardy now. “Our only weapons are words, our desire to communicate,” she said. Santosh Kumar of the Mazdoor Ekta Committee said today every government institution is trying to control and curb political activity. Protests, even at Jantar Mantar, are being refused permission by the police. He said the electoral bonds scam shows the immense clout of the corporates today that wants to crush all opposition.

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In a rousing speech DUJ leader S.K. Pande said this is an era of undeclared emergency on journalists, on students, on universities and other bodies. Jungle law prevails now. He said the Press has been reduced to a magnificent cipher in this erra of McCarthyism. He referred to the destruction of news agencies like UNI and the sidelining of PTI, with the government giving exclusive news to the private agency ANI. He demanded a Black Paper on the atrocious situation of the past ten years. He saluted the workers of Newsclick for their courage in continuing to work in such adverse circumstances and noted that Prabir Purkayasta was both a victim of the Emergency and the present establishment for his diverse views and coordinating the news portal Newsclick supportive of peoples movements from the farmers, TUs , Teachers and students to scientific temper and rationality.

Maimoona Mollah, leader of the All India Democratic Women’s Association, said even the Women’s Day meeting at Jantar Mantar, which is an annual event held by women’s groups in the city, was not permitted this month. Women were bundled into buses and taken away before the meeting could be held. She said we should expect more repression but meet it with resistance.

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Rikta Krishnaswami of the Democratic Youth Federation of India reminded the meeting that many innocent young students, arrested during the anti-CAA protests, are still languishing in jail under draconian UAPA charges.

Ritu Kaushik of the AIMSS thanked the alternative media for its support of the Shaheen Bagh protests and said a free press is essential for democracy. Ravi Kaushal of Newsclick said he had been treated so humanely by the organisation when he fell ill with TB and others too had been helped during personal emergencies. He said it is extremely difficult for people to do without
salaries for months together. Even taking money out of provident fund has now been made impossible because of the EPFO rules and other machinations.

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D. Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum, the Indian Assocition of Preventive and Social Medicine and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, said the scientific community too is being attacked in various ways. There is no freedom of thought which is essential for creative scientific research and research funds too are drying up. The country cannot be ‘atmanirbhar’ in such circumstances. He said the attack on teaching and learning is an attack on our children and their future.

Dhanasumodh of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (Delhi wing) read out a Neimoller poem on the dangers of fascism. He referred to government moves to cancel the bail of Kerala journo Siddique Kappan and said the KUWJ would fight this in court.

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The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by DUJ General Secretary A.M.Jigeesh who called for greater solidarity and joint action among people’s organisations in the face of repression. In his earlier remarks he also referred to the memorandum given to MPS by the DUJ and NAJ.

A solidarity meeting was also held in some parts of Andhra Pradesh by the APWJF NAJ unit there. Solidarity message was received from Press Council member and Press Association leader Jaishankar Gupta. Among others who spoke were journalist Mukund Jha.

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Sd/- Sujata Madhok A.M.Jigeesh Sd/- President General Secretary

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