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Journalists protest TN assembly's arrest of scribes

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: November 08, 2003 19:36 IST
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Journalists have condemned the arrest of the publisher and senior journalists of The Hindu and the editor of Murasoli, a Tamil publication, on an order from the Tamil Nadu assembly. Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani said he was "pained" by the move while the Congress party flayed the Tamil Nadu government for the assembly's motion.


On Friday, the Tamil Nadu assembly sentenced the five journalists and publisher to 15 days in prison for breach of privilege articles written in The Hindu in April last, and which were translated into Tamil in Murasoli. The Tamil Nadu police carried out the arrests on Friday.


Journalists from newspapers, news television organizations, and periodicals on Saturday jammed the traffic on Raisina Road -- one of the busiest roads in the heart of New Delhi -- for about half an hour. They were demanding that the Tamil Nadu assembly rescind its order against the publisher and journalists of The Hindu and the editor of Murasoli -- a regional newspaper -- and release the arrested men and women immediately.


The New Delhi-based Press Club of India called for a protest demonstration and senior journalists such as Kuldeep Nayyar, Surinder Nihal Singh, K K Katyal, Mrinal Pande, and Alok Mehta participated in it. Various other newspaper employees' union, including the Delhi Union of Journalists, also participated in the protest demonstration.


The demonstrators shouted slogans against the Tamil Nadu government and later burnt an effigy of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa. They demanded her arrest and her government's dismissal. The also carried placards demanding that the press not be harassed and should slogans against Jayalalithaa.


Nayyar said that the arrests by the Tamil Nadu police was worse than what the police did against newspaper editors during Emergency in 1975-77. He demanded that the privileges of the members of Parliament and legislatures be codified.


H K Dua, editor of The Tribune and a former media advisor to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, called upon the journalists' fraternity to get together and defeat the designs of the Tamil Nadu government just as they had defeated the Defamation Bill during Rajiv Gandhi government's tenure.


"This is a dictatorial act of the Tamil Nadu assembly supported by the Tamil Nadu government headed by Jayalalithaa," said Dua. He asked newspaper editors to write the same kind of editorials that The Hindu had written and against which the Tamil Nadu assembly had acted.


In a brief speech S Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman, said the action of the Tamil Nadu government was a blatant attack on the freedom of the press in the country. "The action of the Tamil Nadu government is indefensible," he said.


Mrinal Pande, editor of Hindustan, said the action of the Tamil Nadu government reminded her of what Vinoba Bhave had said when Indira Gandhi proclaimed emergency in 1975. "Vinash kale viparit buddhi [Those whom the Gods condemn, they make mad first]. This action needs to be condemned in the strongest terms," she said.


Later, Sanjeev Acharya, secretary general of the Press Club of India read out a resolution addressed to the Governor of Tamil Nadu through the Tamil Nadu resident commissioner in Delhi asking him to recall the order against the journalists and publisher The Hindu and the editor of Murasoli.


A delegation of senior journalists, headed by Kuldeep Nayyar, is scheduled to meet

President Dr A PJ Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Vajpayee to take up the issue.


PTI reports: Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani on Saturday said he is "pained" over the Tamil Nadu Assembly's decision to jail the senior journalists. But he declined from making a detailed comment, saying it was a decision of a state legislature. "At the same time," Advani told reporters in New Delhi, "such a development pains one and you feel upset."


The Congress party in New Delhi blasted the Tamil Nadu government for the "frontal assault" on the freedom of the press and accused it of "converting" the state assembly into a "truncheon of autocracy".


Condemning Tamil Nadu assembly's order, Congress spokesman S Jaipal Reddy said, "The privileges of the legislature are meant to be used as a shield and not as a sword. The Jayalalitha government has been on the rampage in Tamil Nadu."


Asked how the Jayalalitha government was responsible for the order issued by the state assembly, he replied, "Everybody knows Jayalalitha is the author. The motion in the state assembly was steamrolled in the face of stiff resistance from the opposition benches."


Journalists on Saturday staged protests in various parts of Tamil Nadu to condemn the Tamil Nadu assembly's move.


A Coimbatore report said over 100 journalists and photographers covered their mouth with black bands and raised slogans demanding the immediate withdrawal of the arrest orders. Some of them were seen in ropes and chains.


Senior journalists addressed the gathering and described the action as "part of continuous attempt to throttle the freedom of expression and press".


Tamil Nadu BJP President and Member of Parliament C P Radhakrishnan, who visited the protest venue, termed the Tamil Nadu Assembly order as "undemocratic and authoritarian".


Members of the Coimbatore Press Club and Tamil Nadu Journalists Association took part in the demonstration that lasted for nearly 20 minutes.


A similar demonstration was held in Salem district.


Journalists and political leaders in Pondicherry on Saturday courted arrest when they staged a roadblock protest against the Tamil Nadu assembly order.


Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India-Marxists, Pattali Makkal Katchi, Dalit Panthers of India, and Youth Congress were among those arrested. All of them were later released.


The leaders also addressed a demonstration organized by the Pondicherry Chapter of Indian Journalists Union.



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Onkar Singh in New Delhi