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Kolkata: Emotions, Anger as Journalists Protest Against Arrests, Raids on Newsclick

Ominous signs for Indian democracy, say hundreds of journalists, who gathered at the call of Kolkata Press Club.
media persons protests in kolkata against the arrest of Prabir purkastha

Media persons protests in kolkata against the arrest of Prabir purkastha 

Kolkata: Hundreds of journalists gathered here on Thursday at the call of the Kolkata Press Club to protest raids on Delhi-based news portal NewClick and the arrest of its founder Prabir Purkayastha and human resources head Amit Chakravorty under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act).

The protesting journalists also held a rally from the Press Club premises to the Gandhi Statue, defying prohibitory orders under Section 144. Among the protesters were renowned members of the media fraternity, veteran journalist Rantideb Sengupta, Subhasish Maitra, ALTnews founder Pratik Sinha, senior journalist Monideepa Banerjee (former regional director of NDTV), Calcutta Journalists Club president Prantik Sen, associate editor of Bengali daily, Ganashakti, Atanu Saha, Press Club Kolkata president Snehasish Sur and secretary, Kingshuk Pramanik.

Hundreds of journalists wore black badges and carried placards saying, “Journalists are not terrorists”, “Defend press freedom”, etc.

Addressing the solidarity gathering, Press Club secretary Pramanik said the manner in which NewsClick was raided was most unfortunate and was ominous for democracy in the country. Slapping cases under tough terrorism laws on well-known journalists was grossly uncalled for, he added.

The club’s president, Sur, traced the chain of events and said that if the government considered that economic offences were conducted by Newsclick’s owners, then there were enough laws in the country to deal with those offences. “Why suddenly impose terror laws on the fourth estate? This signals an attack on the fourth estate of the country,” he said. 

Newsclick spoke with several veteran journalists present at the rally, including Swati Bhattacharya, national president of South Asian Women in Media and an eminent, who strongly condemned the raids and harassment of journalists and contributors,  including the arrest of its owner-editor, seizing laptops and phones of journalists and other employees and the way they were subjected to interrogation for long hours.

“We are startled, injured and feeling sick at the chain of events. Without any special reason, such draconian Acts are being imposed on journalists to demoralise them. This should be vociferously condemned. We are duty bound to protect our rights and are keeping an eye on the future developments,” she said.

Veteran journalist Rantideb Sengupta told Newsclick that this attack proved that in India, press freedom was in danger. “We understood that a long ago, but now its ramifications are being seen. Those journalists not toeing the official line of the government are being victimised and are being termed ‘anti-national’, ‘urban naxal’ and ‘Chinese stooges’. We know what happened to journalist Siddique Kappan. These incidents show how precarious the state of democracy in our country is turning out to be. We should carry out more protests. This attack on the media was in Delhi; we don’t know when it will be directed toward us in West Bengal. All the reporters who have not sold their spines and pens should come out and take part in protests,” he said.

Prantik Sen, president of the Kolkata Journalists Club, said the attack on press freedom was nothing new; what is new is the way Delhi Police, with an attacking mentality, has taken action without any proof and is harassing journalists.

“Senior journalists like Prabir Purkayastha and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, among others, are being harassed and charged under UAPA Sections. The attack on them means we, the general journalists, are under a more grave threat. We should raise our voices against this, and we hope that both the Union and state government will be moved by these protests,” he said.

Alt News founder Pratik Sinha said this was one of the most brazen attacks that the country had witnessed in the past few years. “Not that the previous attacks were not brazen, but it is getting more brazen with time. To go and raid 46 people associated with Newsclick, to go and search contributors’ homes, it seems that Delhi Police wanted to create a big show. When you create a big show, people will think that there is some truth to the issue. But the fact remains that even now, Delhi Police has not given the FIR copy to Prabir (Delhi HC later ordered police to provide an FIR copy), which looks very, very fishy. From the Alt News team, we are in support of the Newsclick team and those who are exposing human rights abuse,” he said.


Prasun Acharya, a veteran journalist associated with The Telegraph, said, “This atrocity on the news media, particularly the Newsclick case, heralds a black day for democracy in the country.  Nowadays, ‘godi media’ is running the show in favour of the ruling BJP, and there is crony capital, like Adani and Ambani, who are behind this ‘godi media’. So, we should be united to fight this atrocity on the media. We should raise our voices in solidarity with Newsclick and other portals who are giving the actual story while reporting from the ground.”

Eminent journalist Monideepa Banerjee said this was the severest form of crackdown on free media. “UAPA against a journalist is like the BJP is creating a new enemy to target. The message that is going down is devastating for the media. Anybody can be picked up at any time, and worst of all, UAPA has been named. It is only recently that journalist Siddique Kappan got bail after spending two years in jail. This is a gross violation of not just media freedom but everybody’s freedom,” said the former NDTV veteran.

Veteran Arundhati Mukherjee, one of the first full-time female journalists to work in a daily newspaper in Kolkata, pointed out that the attack (on Newsclick) was based on a bogus article by the New York Times.

Atanu Saha, Associate Editor, Ganashakti, said that this attack on media was a direct attack on democracy in the country. “The way senior journalists are being harassed is unprecedented. For the past 10 years, this harassment of media is continuing, and the concept of freedom of speech and thought is under attack.”

Amal Sarkar, former chief reporter of Ei Samay, a Times group daily, and executive editor of Bengali portal The Wall, told Newsclick that in the morning of October 3,  hearing the hullabaloo in the media, he had thought that the pertinent point raised by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi that China has taken a portion of Indian land at Ladakh has been taken back by the Modi government. “But later, I came to know that agencies had raided houses of mediapersons and allegations are there that they are working as China's agents. This is nothing new in India as the current regime has tried to shut the doors of the media and has tried to snatch the swords of mediapersons -- that is, their pen. What I want to say is that the government should pronounce the real allegations against these journalists with appropriate documents. My humble suggestion to the government is to come forward and tell the truth. Incidents like this are plenty in the country. This government does not send any rejoinder letter in case of any news reports against them and straightway lodges criminal cases against reporters and editors. This has become a trend in India and is very dangerous for civil and human rights.”

Subhojit Bagchi, former bureau chief of The Hindu and currently the foreign correspondent of Bangladesh’s Prothom Alo newspaper, said “that the New York Times has reported is a bogus case and the level of reporting in that piece is stupendously low. They have made wild allegations without providing enough proof. Moreover, if articles in any foreign newspaper make the Modi government impose UAPA on its citizens, then the Washington Post and the same NYT have written many times against hate speeches by leaders in the Modi government. Has there been a single case filed against them? The answer is no,” adding that “a democratically elected deep authoritarian regime has taken over.”

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