The Chennai police on January 11 arrested journalist and publisher V Anbazhagan for displaying and selling a book reportedly exposing the corruptions of the state government in the Chennai Book Fair (CBF). The organisers of CBF, the Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India (BAPASI) had earlier asked the publishing house, Makkal Seithi Maiyam to vacate their book stall from the venue citing violation of norms for the exhibitors laid down by the organisation.
Several political parties, journalists’ associations and writers’ forum have severely condemned the action of BAPASI and the subsequent arrest by the state government.
On January 11, BAPASI issued a letter to Makkal Seithi Mayyam to remove their stall from the fair as they had violated the norms of the organisations. The letter stated that the publisher was selling a book against the government, which violated the conditions and hence, they were ordered to vacate the stall. The ‘Rules and Regulations’ announced by BAPASI prohibited the display and sales of books and CDs banned by the government. However, it does not mention anything about displaying or selling of books criticising or exposing the scams of the government. The book was compiled based on the questions and replies of his RTI queries. The book was reportedly about the alleged corruptions in the Smart City project being handled by the Minister of Local Administration.
The opposition parties, writers’ forums and journalists’ associations have condemned the removal of the book stall and the arrest as a mockery of freedom of expression. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Communist Party of India (Marxist) have strongly condemned the police action by the state government. The parties in the statement released demanded the state government to release the journalist and withdraw the cases against him.
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A Kareem, advocate and writer, told NewsClick, “Freedom of expression is a fundamental right as per the Indian constitution. The action taken by the government of Tamil Nadu is a violation of this right of a citizen. In the landmark judgement pronounced in the case filed against writer Perumal Murugan for his book ‘The Half Part Woman’, Justice S K Gaul of the Madras High Court has upheld the right to freedom of expression and hence the case will not stand.”
“The writer has the right to express his opinions through his writings and the state cannot prevent this, is what the judgement had said. So, the state government will have to hang its head in shame if at all the case reaches the court,” he added.
Several writers have also decided to submit a memorandum on January 14 to BAPASI officials in the fair venue condemning the action taken against the publishing house and to withdraw the complaints. A coordination committee of the writers have decided to march from the Keezhadi Historical theatre in the venue to the BAPASI office as a mark of protest. The Bharathi Puthakalayam, a publishing company in Tamil Nadu has written to BAPASI condemning the action taken in the issue. The letter addressed to BAPASI was signed by Nagarajan on behalf of Bharathi Puthakalayam, who is also the vice president of BAPASI. “We consider banning books as an exercise against the democratic values. BAPASI removing an exhibitor for selling books critical of the government is unacceptable. The administrative committee should be convened in the event of taking policy decisions,” the statement said.
The police had filed cases based on the complaints received from the authorities of the book fair alleging the journalist of attacking them. The police had filed cases under sections 341, 249(b) and 506(2) and was remanded for 10 days in judicial custody. This is not the first time, earlier too, several journalists, publishers and even leaders of political parties had faced defamation cases during the regime of late Chief Minister J Jayalalitha.
The 43rd Annual Chennai Book Fair was inaugurated on January 9 by CM Edappadi K Palaniswami. He announced a financial support of Rs 75 lakh to the CBF from the next year during his inaugural address.
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