People's Union for Civil Liberties (PULC) Monday said that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is criminalizing free speech. Commenting on detention of the editor-in-chief of news portal, NewsClick, Prabir Purkayastha and his partner, Gita Hariharan, at their home in Delhi as the 113-hour "search" by the Enforcement Directorate continued. Senior citizens aged 73 and 67 years, were kept in confinement and not allowed access to phones and even to their lawyers in gross violation of their fundamental rights.
In a statement, PUCL President Ravi Kiran Jain and General Secretary V. Suresh said: Unsurprisingly, even till the 5th day, their lawyers did not know why the raid was happening. "The raid is going on. We have not had a chance to understand from the clients what has happened. In fact, the clients are also not aware of the entire details, what is the allegation and we don't know exactly why we are being investigated," the lawyers said.
The raids occurred not just at the office of NewsClick and the house of its editor-in-chief, but also the residence of its chief editor, and in about ten places in Ghaziabad and Delhi. It appears that associated companies, shareholders and others were targeted, making it seem like a raid on a business cartel out to manipulate the market.
NewsClick, since its formation in 2009, has gained a vast following, which this government fears, as it continues to inform the public about the truth and hold the government accountable. The immediate reason to come down heavily on them is perhaps their fearless reporting of the farmers' movement, which is now attracting global attention as the "largest protest in the world," the PUCL officials said.
The PUCL also called upon constitutionally sensitive and democratically minded citizens not to remain silent when the state so brazenly weaponizes the law to persecute by false prosecution, not just the journalists, but also all others who may communicate their views critically questioning the government's policies and activities.
RSF deplores arbitrary raids on Newsclick
In a statement Friday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned this week's raids on the Delhi-based news website Newsclick. The reasons given for the searches are vague, contradictory or non-existent.
"This series of searches on the spurious pretext of money-laundering allegations is intolerable," said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk. "They constitute a serious violation of press freedom and the confidentiality of journalists' sources, which are guaranteed by Indian legislation, and they are preventing the site from operating in a normal manner. "We urge the authorities to drop the arbitrary proceedings that the Enforcement Directorate initiated against Newsclick and we call on the government stop using federal agencies as tools for harassing critical media."
Newsclick had been praised for its coverage of the big protests that farmers have been staging in the New Delhi suburbs for months. The authorities have repeatedly obstructed journalists covering these protests, as RSF reported last week.
Three days ago, the Ministry of Electronics and Information TechnologyorderedTwitter to block more than 1,100 accounts linked to the farmers' protests, many of them belonging to reporters and media outlets such as The Caravan. Twitter refused to comply.
Tellingly, India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
National Alliance of People's Movements
The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) Sunday condemned the alarming rise in state repression and clampdown on news outlets and journalists exposing the anti-people nature of the establishment.
In a statement, the NAPM said: "It is now evident that large sections of mainstream media have been steadily converted into a toxic propaganda machine, reflecting solely the voice of the Centre, peddling lies, hate and misinformation incessantly. At the same time, journalists who stand by the ethics of their profession face threats and even violence, with almost 200 physical attacks against them between 2014 and 2019, and multiple deaths."
The NAPM pointed out that as many as five criminal cases have been filed against prominent journalists Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, The Caravan magazine's editor and founder Paresh Nath, its editor Anant Nath and executive editor Vinod K Jose. The given grounds for the cases are allegedly 'promoting enmity between different groups, insult with intent to provoke breach of peace and criminal conspiracy'. These cases pertain to tweets and reports which alleged that a farmer was shot on 26th January, during the Farmers' Republic Day Parade. On 30th January, the Utter Pardes police filed a criminal case against Siddharth Varadarajan, Founder Editor of The Wire for a report that had the allegations of the dead farmer's family.
The attitude of the state towards journalists and the many strategies of suppression they employ also include and encourage attacks specifically targeted against women journalists, the NAPM said adding: Journalist Neha Dixit who has been uncovering many uncomfortable truths of state excesses, has recently reported someone barging into her home, as well as stalking; and death and rape threats.
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