ATTACKS ON MEDIA ARE INTENSIFYING: CIVIL SOCIETY GROUPSby Editorial Desk October 5 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 40 secs
India stands at 161 out of 180 nations in the world press freedom index, say civil society groups, reports the #Newsdesk
4th October, 2023: Kavita Srivastava, President, and V. Suresh, General Secretary of PUCL, Indra Kumar Jain, Hon. Secretary, The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ), released statements condemning police raids on journalists and media houses, demanding the criminalisation of journalists and intimidation of the media must stop immediately.
Also, over nine hundred civil society citizens, including Ratna Pathak Shah, Aditi Mangaldas, Dolly Thakore, Joy Sengupta, Mridula Mukherjee, Aruna Roy, Binayak Sen, Janaki Nair, Apoorvanand, Sunita Vishwanathan, Anand Patwardhan, Sam Pitroda, Jawhar Sircar, Shabnam Hashmi, Anjali Bhardwaj, Sahir Raza, Smriti Nevatia, Meenakshi Shedde, Ayesha Kidwai, Ashok Lal, and Vinta Nanda have signed a petition in support of Sohail Hashmi.
Among the houses and offices which were raided by the Delhi Police on the 3rd October 2023, were the Editor of Newsclick, Prabir Purkayastha, the former Managing Editor of NDTV, Aunindyo Chakravorty, senior journalist and researcher, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, and senior journalists including Urmilesh, Abhisar Sharma, Bhasha Singh, Subodh Verma, Anuradha Raman, Aditi Nigam, Pranjal, Sumedha Pal and Mukund Jha.
The police searched and seized the devices of satirist and stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura, historian Sohail Hashmi, author Gita Hariharan, Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum and Kiran Chandra of Free Software Movement of India. The Delhi police also raided the office and residence of Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand of Sabrang India in Mumbai.
Not stopping at this, the police also raided the house of Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary of the CPI (M) party and even confiscated a device of a guest staying with him!
All the three statements, of PUCL, BUJ, and of supporters of Sohail Hashmi, have emphasised that the investigation being made under UAPA should desist from framing innocent citizens exercising their constitutional rights. They make appeals asking everyone to come together in strengthening the hands of journalists, and intellectuals, in such dire times and call out the wretched tactics of the government of the day in one voice.
“Such raids and harassment of journalists under terror laws makes even more precarious the practice of journalism in India and renders even more chimerical the Government’s claim that India is the ‘mother of democracies’ and is the world’s largest democracy”, says Kavita Srivastava of the PUCL.
The PUCL also condemns the attack on the Newsclick portal and all the independent journalists and organisations, and calls it a part of a larger witch hunt that has been ongoing against Newsclick, a registered company and media portal, since February 2021. The news portal has stood out for its impeccable reporting, which the present dispensation has found difficult to swallow, it states.
In September 2021, the news portal was under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for alleged money laundering. Its offices and the residence of its owners were raided. In a statement denying the charge, the news portal said that it had fully cooperated with the investigation. In August 2023, the US newspaper The New York Times had published a report that NewsClick had received funding from a US-based tech businessperson Neville Roy Singham, who is allegedly close to the Chinese government.
This raid, on the 3rd October, has come at a time when all the cases against Newsclick and Prabir Purkayastha have been listed next week before the Delhi High Court, which has passed an order that no coercive action should be taken against him. “In order to influence public opinion and the court, these raids have been carried out”, says Srivastava.
The PUCL: It is shocking that the police are investigating a case under draconian terror sections 13,16, 17, 18 and 22C of the UAPA and sec. 153 (A) (hate speech) and 120 (B) (conspiracy) of IPC against media professionals. The raids happened in more than 30 locations in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
It is also shocking that these raids on the media house and these journalists of integrity are being carried out under the draconian provisions of the UAPA relating to unlawful activity, questioning the sovereignty and integrity of India and the even more dangerous provisions relating to terrorism. It bears repetition that those who are raided are journalists and media professionals involved in the business of publishing material, which the state may strongly disagree with.
However, to label what is an exercise of a constitutional right under Article 19(1)(a) as a terror related offence or an unlawful activity, which challenges the sovereignty and integrity of India is to distort and stretch the meaning of terrorism to criminalize all forms of dissent. This is nothing other than an egregious abuse of state power utilized to build a fairy tale narrative that Chinese money was being used by the raided journalists and media professionals for purposes of terrorism!
What is alarming is the manner in which Delhi police seized all data in the journalists' electronic devices, in several instances, without even providing a hash value, thereby compromising the integrity of their data and violating their privacy and the identity of their sources. This is an egregious assault on the right to privacy, the right to dignity as well as the freedom of journalists to practice their profession fearlessly.
It is necessary to point out that the journalists were detained and have been interrogated for hours by the police, in a manner clearly seeking to harass and intimidate them. The larger purpose also is to vilify and create an anti-national narrative against these independent journalists in the public mind and as reprisal for their fair and brave reporting.
The PUCL appeals to all sections of society to come out and condemn this act of the Delhi police and MHA. The echoes of the Emergency of 1975-77 are there in today’s unconstitutional raids and all of us have to stand in solidarity against those being subjected to the high handedness of a tyrannical and lawless state which in its arrogance is forgetting that it too is subject to the Constitution.
The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists: BUJ is appalled by the raids on more than 100 prominent journalists in Delhi and on the Mumbai-based activist-journalists and editors of Sabrang India, Teesta Setalvad and Javed Anand by the Delhi Police today.
In the raids, the police have seized the electronic devices of the journalists, in several instances, without providing them with the mirror image or hash value of their devices, thereby compromising the integrity of their electronic communication and data and giving rise to grave apprehensions of distortion of data, planting of evidence and violations of privacy.
Clearly, independent journalists and voices critical of the present regime are being targeted for their views. Besides, the law enforcing agencies have tried to criminalise journalists with pejorative labels as “anti-national” and propagandists for the government of China.
The BUJ notes with concern that law enforcing agencies have increasingly been using raids, or search and seizure operations, as tools of intimidation and harassment. While there can be no denying the right of the state to investigate and prosecute financial offenders, this cannot be used as a smokescreen to get after dissident voices, especially by invoking stringent laws such as UAPA.
Statement in support of Sohail Hashmi: We the undersigned strongly condemn the Delhi police special cell action against journalists. Along with the others, we register our condemnation of the harassment of Mr. Sohail Hashmi.
Around 6 am on 3rd October 2023 Delhi police special cell raided Sohail Hashmi’s house, in the Newsclick case, which is now being investigated under the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). His family was harassed in an early morning commotion where police personnel barged into his house, including his and his daughter’s bedroom. The cops seized his personal computer, hard disc along with the flash drives, all containing significant files of his work life. This raid in the name of law was one among many similar such attacks carried out by the special cell in the NCR today, where scores of journalists, intellectuals and activists have been questioned, while some were taken for further questioning, and their personal works have been seized.
We strongly condemned this outrageously fiendish act of the government whereby they are hellbent to stifle every dissenting voice with vicious impunity.
We of course not be silenced by such intimidating tactics of the government where an educationist, filmmaker, a popular historian, a person committed to the secular fabric of the country like Sohail Hashmi is being targeted in an investigation under the oppressive UAPA. The law, which is infamous for wilfully targeting the members of minority community in its brief history of tyrannical operation, is well documented by now.
We would like to put it on record that Sohail Hashmi’s work, if is about anything, it is about cherishing and preserving India’s unique composite culture and its intellectual history. His work among children and on inculcating the conserving ethics about our shared history and heritage doesn’t require any further introduction. We are particularly appalled at the behaviour meted out to senior citizens like Sohail Hashmi, and numerous others whose houses have been raided today and were treated like criminals.