Members of the South Asian media fraternity came together on Monday, February 8, to raise their voices against ongoing suppression of freedom of the press in the world’s so called largest democracy.
The demonstration was held right outside the Indian Consulate in Vancouver, by the Punjabi Press Club of British Columbia (PPCBC).
This was in response to the recent arrests and filing of criminal charges against journalists who have been covering the ongoing agitation by farmers near New Delhi. Not only were some journalists detained after being booked on trumped up charges, but female journalists were subjected to abuse and rape threats on social media by supporters of the ruling right wing Hindu nationalist BJP government.
The farmers have been protesting against controversial farming laws that threaten their livelihood.
The PPCBC believes there is a pattern behind the spike in attacks on free expression in India under a totalitarian regime. Ever since the BJP came to power in 2014, attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents have grown. Apart from journalists, scholars and activists are also being arrested under draconian laws to instil fear.
They demanded that not only motivated charges against journalists be revoked, but an impartial investigation be launched into the murders of journalists, such as Gauri Lankesh, by suspected Hindu extremists.
They also asked for the unconditional release of all activists and scholars being incarcerated in the Indian jails, and the scrapping of black laws.
Among those who addressed the rally was the PPCBC President Navjot Kaur Dhillon. She is the first female president of the club.
Dhillon read out the charter of demands that was to be presented to the office of Consul General of India. However, the staff at the Indian consulate refused to accept it.
One of the demands in the memorandum asked the Indian government to stop meddling in media affairs abroad through its diplomatic channels, and stop denying visas to the journalists raising critical questions.
Others who spoke on the occasion included the club Vice President Gurpreet Singh, former President Jarnail Singh, besides senior members Khushpal Gill, Bakshinder Singh, Harkirat Singh Kular and Amarpal Singh.
The rally began with a moment of silence in memory of Charanpal Gill, a community elder and a towering human rights activist from Canada, who passed away recently. Gill had fought against racism and dedicated his entire life to the rights of farm workers.