PUCL Condemns Defamatory, Scurrilous Attack on Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj, National Secretary, PUCL by Republic TV – Demands Action from National Broadcasting Standards Authority of India and NHRC

The PUCL strongly condemns the recent fabricated, malicious and motivated attacks against Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj and other human rights defenders, by Republic TV and its anchor Ms. Shivani Gupta, Deputy Editor Mr. Shawan Sen and its Managing Director, Mr. Arnab Goswami, by way of a series of programmes presented on Republic TV on 4th July 2018 as “Super Exclusive Breaking News”.

Relying on a fabricated letter allegedly addressed by her to a Maoist named ‘Comrade Prakash’, the channel repeatedly aired, completely false, unsubstantiated and scurrilous accusations against Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj. We stand by her in her categorical denial of having ever written this letter.

The channel revealed no source and details of how the letter was procured, accused her of stating that “Kashmir like situation” had to be created and of receiving money from Maoists, without even seeking any clarifications from her or questioning the authenticity of the letter.

The letter has been used by the channel to label lawyers and human rights defenders as “Urban Naxals” and attempts to establish links with Kashmir separatist groups. The programmes have been aired with headers of“#UrbanNaxalsExposed”.

Similar allegations were made against other human rights defenders and lawyers including senior human rights activist and founder of the PUDR, Mr. Gautam Navlakha, telecast in Part 2 of the programme, via a second letter supposedly procured by the Channel. As if that was not enough, it was followed by a national debate on Prime Time TV at 9 p.m that day hosted by the channel’s anchor, Shivani Gupta.

It is pertinent to note that in the earlier arrests of the five human rights defenders under UAPA on 6th June 2018, a similar fabricated letter was produced by Republic TV allegedly addressed to the same “Comrade Prakash”. On 7th June 2018, Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj had addressed a press conference organized by the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) in New Delhi to condemn the arrest of Advocate Surendra Gadling of the Nagpur High Court.

The PUCL is extremely proud to have advocate Sudha Bharadwaj as its member. She has been a dedicated trade unionist for more than three decades and has served as a general secretary of its Chhattisgarh branch, during which time the branch did remarkable work in the State. She is also associated with the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, which was founded by the late Shankar Guha Niyogi. She started her legal practice in the year 2000 and has since, fought innumerable cases of workers, farmers, adivasis and poor people in the fields of labour, land acquisition, forest rights and environmental rights. Since the year 2007, she has been practicing in the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur and was nominated by the High Court to be a member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority. She also supported young lawyers to set up the Jagdalpur Legal Aid group as a civil society initiative to provide legal aid to incarcerated Tribals. She is a visiting faculty at the National Law University Delhi, where she teaches the course on tribal rights and land acquisition.

Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj’s consistent and selfless work in the field of human rights, speaks for itself, and is evidence of her pro-people positions at all times. As a human rights lawyer she has appeared in cases of habeas corpus and fake encounters of adivasis in the High Court of Chhattisgarh and also made representations to the National Human Rights Commission in the defence of many human rights defenders. Recently the NHRC sought her assistance in investigating a case in Village Kondasawali (Sukma, Chhattisgarh).

We are unequivocal in stating that her brave and relentless efforts to contest human rights violations by the state and her defence of human rights defenders, stands in opposition to the ethos of Republic TV and its owners. It is clear that this vicious and fabricated campaign was done to malign her image and reputation and cause her both personal and professional harm and injury.

We wish to reiterate that the tenor and shrill nature of the Republic TV report gives the clear impression that they are also acting as mouthpiece and agents of investigating agencies, who have no compunction in twisting and subverting the law. All of this goes against the National Broadcasters Standards Authority (NBSA) Guidelines on Broadcast of Potentially Defamatory Content, which categorically state that
“5. A news anchor / journalist / presenter should not make any derogatory, derisive or judgmental statements as part of reporting or commentating.
6. As a norm, a news channel should not report – live or recorded – any statement that is per se derogatory or derisive.
Before reporting any accusation or allegation the version of the person affected must be obtained and aired simultaneously with the accusation or allegation to give a complete picture to the viewer. In the event of inability to obtain the version of the affected person(s) within a reasonable period, the same should be aired simultaneously and authentic contemporaneous records of the effort should be maintained”.
9. Before broadcasting any such news / programmes, the channel must take necessary steps to ascertain its veracity and credibility.”
(Source:http://www.nbanewdelhi.com/assets/uploads/pdf/4_Guidelines_on_Broadcast_of_Potentially_Defamatory_Content_13_12_12_E.pdf).

In light of the above:

1. The PUCL calls upon the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the courts to take note of this trend and take measures to arrest it immediately.
2. We also call upon the Republic TV to issue an unconditional apology to Sudha Bharadwaj and demand that the programmes aired by it be immediately withdrawn from its website, social media and other public platforms. The Republic TV should also carry prominently and in detail the letter of denial issued by Adv. Sudha Bharadwaj repudiating the allegations made by Republic TV channel in the same prime time News Slot as earlier.
3. We also call upon the democratic minded citizens of India to condemn the unprincipled manner in which Republic TV has defamed Sudha Bharadwaj and oppose such insidious and collusive attempts by State agencies and media outfits to silence human rights activists against the vindictive State policies and action.
4. We further condemn the constant profiling of human rights activists working tirelessly against the state’s anti-people actions and policies as “urban naxals/ Maoists”, in an attempt to malign them and influence public sentiment.
5. We demand that the National Broadcasting Standards Authority of India (NBSA) register a complaint against Republic TV for violating it’s Code of Conduct and also calls upon the Editors Guild of India to initiate appropriate action in the matter.
6. We urge the NHRC to immediately order a transparent and impartial investigation against the said programme of the Republic TV.
7. We further urge the NHRC to take immediate action against those responsible and issue order restraining the Republic TV from airing such fallacious and unverified programmes maligning human rights defenders in the future.

Mr. Ravi Kiran Jain, National President, PUCL
Dr. V. Suresh, National General Secretary, PUCL

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Stop the Witch-hunting of Trade Unionists and Human Rights Defenders

The New Trade Union Initiative condemns the baseless allegations, that are fabricated and defamatory, made against Comrade Sudha Bharadwaj leader of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh and Jan Aadharit Engineering Mazdoor Union in Chhattisgarh of having ‘Maoist’ links, receiving funds from ‘Maoists’ and creating a ‘Kashmir like situation’ by Republic TV Managing Director and anchor, Arnab Goswami.

A large section of the media, which should above all be the defender of democracy, has placed itself at the disposal of rightwing political forces, the ruling BJP government and agencies of state to serve an agenda that goes against the interest of the many and serves the interest of the few.

The references to Sudha are part of an ongoing campaign both in government and through regressive forces in civil society to create an atmosphere of fear amongst those speaking up and standing against the attack on democracy, justice and equality.

Sudha, inspired by Sankar Guha Niyogi, joined the trade union movement three decades ago in the difficult terrain of Dalli Rajhara and Bhilai. She has also been an active human rights defender who recently spoke against the arrest of human rights activist and General Secretary of Indian Association of Peoples’ Lawyers, Surendra Gadling, for his alleged link with the Bhima Koregaon violence in Nagpur. Gadling has been unremittingly fighting cases against human rights violations and false UAPA cases imposed upon Dalits and Adivasis while providing legal aid to Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba and dalit rights activist Sudhir Dhawale. Sudha also has been vocal against the arrest of Damodar Turi from Ranchi allegedly as an activist connected to the unlawfully banned trade union Mazdoor Sangathan Samity (MSS). Comrade Sudha has also challenged the ban of MSS is trade union organisation, registered under the provisions of the Trade Union Act 1926 since 1989 unionising contract workers and other workers in the informal sector who are amongst the most exploited section of the country’s working people. The ban on MSS is not just in violation of the Trade Unions Act but also an attack on the fundamental rights of MSS’ members in so far as the Government of Jharkhand’s action denies them their right to freedom of association as provided under Article 19(1) c of the Indian Constitution.

The NTUI joins with all progressive forces in fighting this attack as it stands in solidarity with Comrade Sudha Bharadwaj and the members of the Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh and Jan Aadharit Engineering Mazdoor Union who continue to face the gravest attack on their rights and workers and citizens. Their fight is our fight and a fight we must win.

Gautam Mody
General Secretary