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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 41 October 7, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Oct 7, 2023

Saturday 7 October 2023


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Oct 7, 2023

October 3, 2023, will go down a black day for press freedoms & civil liberties in India. Early morning onwards, police raided the homes of leading journalists, cultural activists, intellectuals, and critics including the General Secretary of the CPI(M). The police arrested Prabir Purkayastha the editor of the independent media portal NewsClick and Amit Chaudhuri, the HR in-charge of NewsClick under UAPA, the anti-terror law, and the police raided the homes of 44 others and sealed the office premises of NewsClick. Many of the journalists whose homes were raided had uncovered and reported on protest movements of labouring people, corruption, and wrongdoing in the past 9 years of the Modi Government. The police took away without warrants, phones, and laptops from the persons called in for interrogation and this is illegal, and a violation of the right to privacy. Over a dozen media organisations have written to the Chief Justice of India seeking protections & rules for police seizures of electronic devices of journalists. The October 3 crackdown on NewsClick should be seen as part of a pattern of how the state is going after the media that is critical of the Government, only a few months ago Delhi Police had surrounded the offices of the BBC in Delhi soon after the Government had banned a BBC documentary. In various right-wing circles an unfounded claim is being made that there is Chinese money involved in funding Newsclick, but even if that were true, is that illegal? What is the problem after all, China is a member of the UN Security Council, is a key part of the BRICS alliance, and remains a top source of imports for India, with $98.50 billion worth of Chinese goods in 2022-23. Leading Chinese firms are known to have funded the PM Cares fund and by advertisement slots on leading pro-government TV networks but they have not come under any scanner of the authorities. Funds invested in NewsClick have had all legal permissions and Government agencies have been investigating for several years without showing wrongdoing. It is increasingly obvious that independent media and civil society groups critical of the Government are being deliberately targeted & harassed and the Modi Government’s claim about India being the mother of democracy is all for show. India is a signatory to a G7 statement in June 2022 calling for “guarding the freedom, independence and diversity of civil society actors” and “protecting the freedom of expression and opinion online and offline” [1], but in reality it ranks very low in the World Freedom of Press index. A forceful public mobilisation by media workers and citizen’s groups for press freedom and democratic rights guaranteed by the constitution is the need of the hour.

October 7, 2023 —HK

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