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Misuse of state power to curb freedom of press, freedom of expression, academic freedom in West Bengal - Statements by PUCL, Sahmat and PUDR

17 April 2012

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PUCL Press Statement on Anti-democratic Conduct of West Bengal Government

The recent developments in the state of West Bengal are very disturbing for all democratically thinking people in the country. The Chief Minister of the state is behaving more as a medieval despot than as the head of a government democratically elected. One is extremely surprised that such public conduct should come from a leader of the party that has rode to power accusing the previous regime of anti-democratic ways.

First the Chief Minister stooped to the level of accusing two unfortunate victims of rape of being part of a conspiracy to defame her government even before the police had investigated the case, and then retaliated by transferring the police officer who found the allegation of rape being true and nailed her lie. Secondly, instead of improving governance , she has banned the purchase of newspapers critical of her conduct and has gone to the extent of warning that she may dictate to the people what they should read or not read. Third is the outrageous act of arresting a professor of Jadhavpur University along with his friend for mailing to a few persons a very decent cartoon critical of her erratic behavior. Now we hear that the state CID is instructed to trail the IP addresses of all those who post material on social website Facebook critical of her ways, policies and conduct. It seems that Chief Minister has forgotten that we have a constitution and a functioning democracy accordingly. Add to this the brutal attack on protesting slum dwellers of Nonadanga in Kolkatta and arrest of Scientist Parta Sarathi Roy for allegedly leading the slum dwellers’ protest. These acts of the state government constitute multiple democratic aberrations violating freedom of press, freedom of expression, academic freedom and blatant misuse of state power and are totally unacceptable and deserve to be condemned in the strongest possible words. PUCL demands that the state government desist from strangulating the social media, arrested professor be forthwith released and democratic norms be restored in the state.

Pushkar Raj (General Secretary, PUCL National)

Prabhakar Sinha (President, PUCL National)


SAHMAT

Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust
- 29, Feroze Shah Road,New Delhi-110001
- Telephone 23381276/ 23070787
- email: sahmat8@yahoo.com

Date 17.4.2012

Statement on West Bengal

We are dismayed by the spiralling descent into irrationality of the administration in West Bengal state, in under a year since Mamata Banerjee took office as chief minister.

We believe the increasing illogic of the administration is inspired from the very top, by the impetuous and ill-considered statements and actions of the chief minister on every matter that falls within her gaze: crimes against women, the poor oversight of medical facilities, or the alarming deterioration in the quality of civic services.

Early hopes and beliefs some may have harboured, that the descent would be halted once the new ruling order consolidated itself, have been belied.

The West Bengal state government order issued late in March, prescribing in minute detail the newspapers that public libraries could subscribe to, was an unwarranted intrusion into the right of the people to seek information from any source of their choosing. In what is clearly a retaliatory move against newspapers that have been critical of certain official decisions since the Mamata Banerjee government took office, the circular left out the two most widely circulated Bengali language dailies and all English newspapers. Curiously, three dailies whose owner-editors were recently elected to the Rajya Sabha on Trinamool Congress tickets, find mention in the list.

It soon became evident that this effort to rig the decks in favour of friendly newspapers was part of a wider intolerance of dissent. By any account, the arrest of Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra – after he had been roughed up by political cadre of the ruling party – for circulating over the internet a subtle joke about Mamata Banerjee’s leadership style, must rank among the gravest violations of the free speech right by an elected government in recent times.

We are also shocked at the continuing incarceration of Partho Sarothi Ray, an internationally renowned molecular biologist and professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata, after he took part in a peaceful demonstration against the eviction of slum dwellers in the eastern part of the city. Though he was arrested in the course of the April 8 protests, he is being charged with involvement in an incident of April 4, when he was not even present.

We support the mounting protest against such acts of brazen violation of basic democratic rights and call upon people all over the country to register their protest.

Prof. J.V.Naik

Prof. Rajiv Gupta

Prof. Amar Farooqui

Prof. Kesavan Veluthat

Prof Mridula Mukherjee

Prof. Aditya Mukherjee

Prof. Irfan Habib

Prof. Prabhat Patnaik

Prof. Arjun Dev

Prof. Indira Dev

Prof. D. N. Jha

Prof. C. P. Chandrasekhar

Prof. Shireen Moosvi

Prof. Iqdar Alam Khan

Prof. Ramesh Rawat

Prof. Wasi Hyder

Prof. Saira I. Habib

Prof. Atluri Murli

Dr. Archana Prasad

Prof. Shakti Kak

Prof. Javeed Alam

Sashi Kumar

Madhu Prasad

Jawarimal Parakh
Nasir Tyabji

Astad Deboo

Saeed Mirza

M. K. Raina

Madan Gopal Singh

Ram Rahman

Sohail Hashmi

Virendra Saini

Teesta Setalvad

Dr. P. K. Shukla

Prof. Anil Bhatti

Prof. J. M. Parakh

Dr. Sanjeev Kumar

Dr. Lata Singh

Prof. Utsa Patnaik

Prof. Jayati Ghosh

Asad Zaidi

Manmohan

Rajesh Joshi

Chanchal Chauhan

Moloyshree Hashmi

Sudhanva Deshpande

Indira Chandrasekhar

Saroj Ganpath

Zoya Hasan

Teesta Setalwad

B. N. Uniyal

Ruchira Gupta

Santosh Kumar Rai

Shaleen Jain

Indira Mukherjee

Anil Nauria

Anil Sadgopal

Badri Raina

Aniket Alam

Sukumar Murlidharan

Ritu K Singh

Jagdish Lal Dawar

Daanish Raj

Shabnam Hashmi

Rajendra Sharma

Samvartha Salil

Rahul Verma

N. K. Sharma

K. Ashok Rao

M.M.P. Singh

Vishnu Nagar

Maya Krishna Rao


PUDR statement condemning the Kolkata arrests on the issue of cartoons

April 13, 2012

PUDR is astounded by the West Bengal government’s latest incident of intolerance of dissent and suppression of democratic rights. Media sources state that a professor of Chemistry at Jadavpur University, Ambikesh Mahapatra, was assaulted by TMC hoodlums at his residence and then arrested on 12th April for allegedly circulating, by email, a political cartoon lampooning the chief minister, Ms. Mamata Banerjee for the rail budget fiasco. A neighbour of the professor, Mr. Subrata Sengupta, has also been picked up. The police has charged Prof. Mahapatra under u/s 66, (sending offensive messages through electronic mail) of the IT Act, and u/s 500 (defamation), 509 (insulting the modesty of a woman through word, gesture or act) and u/s114 (presence of abettor at the time of commission of offence) IPC. A light-hearted, non-professional attempt of the variety that is very common on the internet, the cartoon can be viewed with a simple Google search or at the website of major media organisations reporting the incident (eg. Hindustan Times or IBNlive.in.com). The absurdity of the charges are self-evident.

It has been reported that Mr Madan Mitra, the Trinamul minister who led yesterday’s TMC goon squad violence on democratic rights activists from APDR has defended the attack on Prof. Mahapatra.

Throughout the month of April, a number of incidents including arbitrary extra-legal assaults and violent police action on peaceful, democratic protest are showing the TMC led West Bengal government’s extreme intolerance of any form of dissent. First there was the brutal demolition of the Nonadanga slums to hand the land over to real estate developers. Then the anti-eviction activists are arrested and slapped with ridiculous charges without an iota of substantive evidence. The convenient ‘Maoist’ bogey is being invoked, as if that relieves the state of all responsibility to follow the due process of the law.

It has also been reported that some of the arrested activists are being booked under UAPA the notorious ‘terror’ law, again without a shred of real evidence. Evidently, peaceful protests on issues of life and livelihood or political dissent have become an ‘act of terror’ in the eyes of the West Bengal government.

On the other hand, TMC goon squads are being unleashed on people’s protests and activists. The administration has the full political backing to shield the perpetrators of these attacks and arrest the victims.

It has also been reported that the government is trying to implicate the arrested activists in old cases pertaining to the Nandigram protests – which is doubly shocking, given that Nandigram was one of Mamata Banerjee’s prime electoral planks.

PUDR wishes to remind those in power in Kolkata that the fundamental right to speech, thought and association cannot be curbed simply because a government dislikes democratic forms of dissent or disagrees with the politics of the protesters.

PUDR demands

  • An unconditional release of Professor Mahapatra and Mr. Sengupta
  • Immediate and unconditional release of all arrestees on the Nonadanga anti-eviction issue
  • An FIR be lodged against the TMC goons who are leading the assaults on dissenters
  • That the draconian, anti-democracy UAPA not be invoked to deal with peaceful protests

Paramjeet Singh and Preeti Chauhan
- Secretaries, PUDR

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