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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 42 October 14, 2023

Radical Socialist Statement: Condemn Modi Government’s Attack on Journalists and Press Freedom

Saturday 14 October 2023


[October 11, 2023]

Radical Socialist strongly condemns the ghastly witch-hunting carried out by the Modi Government against journalists, associates, employees and contributors associated with NewsClick. On October 3, 2023 in one of the worst attacks on the independent media, the Delhi Police Special Cell raided their homes and offices across Delhi NCR and Mumbai. This was followed by the arrests of the NewsClick’s editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayasta and its Head of Human Resources Amit Chakravarty under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Shockingly, the Delhi Police refused to provide a copy of the first information report (FIR) to Newsclick’s lawyers, while the document was selectively leaked to pro-BJP media. Around 46 journalists and activists were held by the Delhi Police for questioning, which included eminent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who in 2017 had been similarly harassed by the police for exposing the corrupt nexus between BJP and Gautam Adani. This recent attack on NewsClick is a further brazen attempt at muzzling free speech and dissent that has become a norm since 2014.

The crackdown on NewsClick comes ostensibly in the background of the report published by the New York Times (NYT) on August 3, 2023, about a chain of organizations including NewsClick having received funds from a leftwing entrepreneur and philanthropist, Neville Roy Singham through completely legal channels. That Singham has political sympathies with China, as pointed out in the NYT article, was already known to the Indian government in 2021 when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided NewsClick to supposedly uncover illegalities regarding foreign funding and money laundering. Their prolonged investigation has proved, as expected, to be utterly fruitless. The purpose behind this weaponizing of the stringent provisions of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, and blatantly misusing governmental agencies such as the ED is to target critical voices. The harassment of the Mumbai-based Lawyers’ Collective is another case in point, where the ED is similarly being used to gag the organization under the false pretence of investigating money laundering, while the truth is that they are being targeted for representing activists involved in the Bhima Koregaon case, and many others who have suffered the wrath of the Modi regime.

The NYT article has served as an excuse to now vindictively target NewsClick through UAPA for supposed anti-national journalism. This is evidenced by the Delhi Police’s interrogation of the NewsClick that was predominantly centred on their critical coverage of the anti-CAA/NRC protests, 2020 Delhi Riots, BJP government’s shoddy handling of the Covid crisis, and the Farmers’ Agitation. Incidentally, these are also the precise issues for which Modi came under fire globally as they exposed the rampant human rights violations in India. That the NYT report is basically a ruse, is further confirmed by the Centre’s detention and questioning of cultural activist Sohail Hashmi, stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura, and scientist and science propagator D. Raghunandan, who have nothing to do with the NYT story or with the workings of NewsClick. The Delhi Police has repeatedly acted at the behest of the BJP by aggressively pursuing fraudulent FIRs filed against democratic rights activists and intellectuals. It has, however, conveniently looked the other way when the members of the BJP are directly implicated in criminal offences such as in the recent case of BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh where the Delhi Police shamelessly refused to even file an FIR, despite prolonged public demonstrations led by female wrestlers who had accused Singh of harassing them sexually for years during his tenure as the chief of Wrestling Federation of India.

The timing of the NewsClick crackdown is also suspect as it comes two months after the NYT article was first published, and weeks after the noise around the G20 spectacle had died down. The crackdown comes in the background of the publication of the Bihar Caste Survey whose findings can be used by the opposition to undermine the voting appeal of ‘Hindu unity’ by the BJP in the coming assembly and then general elections. To its ‘anti-Hindu’ Muslim conspiracy theories is added the BJP’s effort to promote a wider ‘anti-India’ sentiment by going after the left opposition. Hence, there is its effort to raise the China bogey and to connect NewsClick journalism to activist Gautam Navlakha, who too has been unjustly rrested under UAPA.

If the draconian power in the hands of the state during the Emergency was detaining individuals without them being able to exercise any rights, then the indiscriminate use of UAPA on students, left-wing protestors, and now journalists is an indication of India experiencing an undeclared emergency. In the four years between 2016 and 2020, 24,000 people have been booked under UAPA which has a measly conviction rate of 2%, i.e., most of the cases were false and politically motivated. The recent crackdown on NewsClick journalists is a continuation of the BJP practice of maintaining the shell and form of democracy, while hollowing it out from the inside. All public government institutions are rendered (or in the process of being rendered) into becoming the arm of the ruling BJP, be it the Election Commission, the Enforcement Directorate (ED),the CBI, the office of the Governor or even the Judiciary.

Since coming to power in the Centre in 2014, journalists have increasingly come under attack. Some have been killed by assailants linked to the Sangh Parivar, like Gauri Lankesh, others have been hounded for critical coverage of the government, like Siddique Kappan, who under UAPA spent more than two years behind bars before getting bail. Even the foreign press has not been spared as evidenced by the raids on the BBC office in New Delhi after they screened a documentary that criticized Modi. India is now one of the most dangerous places for journalists. According to a report by Committee Against Assault on Journalists (CAAJ) titled ‘The Siege of the Media,’ 48 journalists were physically assaulted, 66 were booked or arrested and 12 were murdered since 2017—only in Yogi’s UP. According to the media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF), the India’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has slipped to an abysmal 161 out of 180 countries, below Pakistan and the Taliban. According to this report, 16 journalists in India have been booked under UAPA and 7 continue to be in jail.

We call upon the Left, working class organizations, trade unions and civil society groups to stand in solidarity with NewsClick and other dissident journalists and demand:

  • Immediate release of Prabir Purkayastha and Amit Chakravarty
  • Repeal of UAPA and the release of all the democratic rights activists unjustly arrested under its charges
  • Protection of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and right to dissent
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