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Delhi: DUJ Protest Meeting Calls for Media to Join Hands, Resist Attacks on Press Freedom

Condemning repression of democratic rights, the gathering also called for release of jailed journalists, including Newsclick’s editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha.
Condemning repression of democratic rights, the gathering also called for release of jailed journalists, including Newsclick’s editor-in-chief Prabir Purkayastha.

New Delhi: A protest meeting, widely attended by several journalists, civil society organisations, trade unions and farmers’ organisations was held at Delhi’s Press Club of India on Saturday, March 16, 2024

Called by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) to “Protect Press Freedom and the Working Journalists’ Act, and No Repressive Laws”, the meeting also called for protecting journalists’ livelihoods and the release of Newsclick’s editor-in chief Prabir Purkayastha, 76, who has been incarcerated since October 2023 after widespread raids on the news website, an about hundred people, including independent journalists, contributors and some former employees.

Among those who addressed the gathering were senior journalists Siddharth Varadarajan, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Press Club President Gautam Lahiri, Kerala Union of Working Journalist general secretary Dhanasumod, NAJ President SK Pande, DUJ President Sujata Madhok, DUJ general secretary A M Jigeesh, Nandita Narain of Democratic Teachers' Front and various social activists and affected journalists.

In his opening remarks, Ashok Dhawale of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), 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 communalisation of the people,” he said.

Referring to the growing riches and clout of the crony corporates, he said “resistance by the people is growing and even the mainstream newspapers are forced to acknowledge this, which was evident by the coverage of the recent farmers’ mahapanchayat held in Delhi.”

Dhawale also expressed solidarity with Purkayastha and victimised Newsclick staff and pointed out the positive role played by the news organisation which amplified the farmers’  and working people’s voices.

“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,” he said.

Press Club of India president Lahiri said it was time for the media to come together and protest against attacks.

“During the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, journalists must report freely and fairly in the festival of democracy. A sharp eye should be kept on EVMs and VVPATs,” he said, adding that PCI would set up a ‘war room’ for election coverage and urged people to send videos and reports if they were censored by their organisations.

Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor of The Wire, said BJP was now worried about winning the elections.

He also spoke on the prolonged incarceration of journalists, including Prabir Purkayastha, 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.

Referring to the “repression of the farmers’ struggles, including the recent crackdown in which one person died and many were injured, he pointed out that not only were farmers 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," he added.

Citing the example of Caravan magazine’s expose on military torture of civilians in Kashmir, he said the article 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,” he said, adding that the website would challenge this censorship in court.

Gautam Modi of the New Trade Union Initiative said trade unions were a creature of democracy. “We must struggle to build and defend our unions, if we are to build democracy itself,” and pointed out the sad state of unions in the media that had left journalists “defenceless and speechless”.

Nandita Narain of DTF said it was “sad to see men like Prabir Purkayastha, who is a patriot and a role model, thrust into jail” and also 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 G N Saibaba on bail but said others too need to be released.

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.

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.

Veteran journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, who is facing multiple cases for his investigative stories, said the dawn raids on 80 people associated with Newsclick was meant to have a “chilling effect” on the entire media.

“The idea was 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.”

Writer Githa Hariharan said raids and imprisonment were 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 added.

Santosh Kumar of the Mazdoor Ekta Committee said today every government institution was trying to control and curb political activity. Protests, even at Jantar Mantar, were being refused permission by the police. He said the electoral bonds scam shows the immense clout of the corporates today.

DUJ leader S.K. Pande said this was an era of ‘undeclared emergency' on journalists, on students, on universities and other bodies. Jungle law prevails now. “

He said the press had been reduced to a “magnificent cipher in this era of McCarthyism” and referred to the destruction of news agencies like UNI (United News of India) and the sidelining of PTI (Press trust of India), with the government giving exclusive news to the private agency ANI (Asian News International).

Pande 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, which is supportive of people's movements.

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.

We should expect more repression but meet it with resistance,” she added.

Rikta Krishnaswami of the Democratic Youth Federation of India reminded the meeting that many innocent young students, arrested during the anti-CAA protests, were 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 was essential for democracy.

Ravi Kaushal, a reporter with Newsclick, narrated how he had been treated so humanely by the organisation when he suffered from TB. He said it had become extremely difficult for people to work without salaries for months together (Newslclick’s accounts have been seized  by the IT department).

D. Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum, the Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, said the scientific community too was 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,” adding that the attack on teaching and learning was an “attack on our children and their future.”

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

DUJ general secretary A.M.Jigeesh called for greater solidarity and joint action among people’s organisations in the face of repression.

A solidarity meeting was also held in some parts of Andhra Pradesh by the APWJF NAJ unit there. Solidarity messages were also received from Press Council member and Press Association leader Jaishankar Gupta.

(This report is based on a press release issued by the DUJ)

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