Sunday, March 1, 2009

Citizens Statement Condemning TN Govt's War on Free Speech

This statement was adopted at a meeting held on 1 March, 2009. The statement was released to the media, and will be sent to the Government. A number of artists, led by Nateshan and S. Sunil Kumar painted the wall outside Chandralekha/Sadanand Menon's house facing the Besant Nagar beach with murals in defence of free speech.

Citizen's Statement Condemning the Tamilnadu Government's War Against Free Speech

1 March, 2009

As citizens who place a high premium on the freedom of expression and the democratic ideal, we condemn the violence unleashed by the State Government and its police force on lawyers, judges, clients including a large number of women, court staff, court property and private property on 19 February, 2009. The police violence is being justified as a retaliatory act in response to some lawyers resisting arrest. The fact, however, remains that a massive police force armed to the teeth has forced its entry into the High Court without the express permission of the Court authorities.

The manner in which the police engaged in hot pursuit and returned to wreak violence in several separate encounters indicates an intent to terrorise, with the mandate to do so having been authorised by very high offices. The spectacle of law enforcement authorities going on a rampage demeans the image of the authority. That this deplorable act was triggered, at least partly if not wholly, by the Tamilnadu Government's growing frustration at the lawyers' continued demand for action to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka is public knowledge. Seen in this light, the police action of 19 February is clearly an act designed to strike at the roots of democracy and free speech. The act is extraordinary because of the audacity shown by the State in invading the premises of no less an institution than the High Court. If even hallowed institutions such as the judiciary are not spared the batons of the police, what chance does a common person have to express dissent without inviting violent retribution from the State. The court has been the only institution capable of reining in the police and holding this force accountable. Seen in this context, it is clear that the violent act of 19 February is intended as a warning to the judiciary about the consequences of being strict on the police and State.

Indeed, police violence and intimidation is a routine affair and one of the key tools deployed by the State to suppress dissent – be it by land-losers fighting to retain their lands, or slum dwellers fighting for due notice before eviction. A Government that does not know how to solicit opinions and conduct consultations in a non-threatening atmosphere is a Government that does not know how to perform in a democracy. If people are pushed to the extreme to express their opinion, the fault primarily lies with the Government for having failed to provide the right atmosphere and avenues to allow people to voice their views and be heard.

We extend our solidarity to all those who were victimised on 19 February in the Madras High Court premises, and to all others who have been intimidated and hurt by State actors for expressing their point of view.

In the immediate instance of the 19 February violence, we, as concerned citizens who believe in the rule of law and constitutional principles, demand that the Government of Tamilnadu should:

1. Publish a white paper naming the authorities who authorized the entry and subsequent action of the police force in the High Court.

2. Take stringent action against the police officers responsible for the incidents of 19 February, 2009.

3. Dissolve all Government appointed enquiry committees and extend its full cooperation to the Court-appointed committee.

4. The Government should pay for treatment of victims of police violence, and for restoration and repair of damaged property.

5. Demonstrate its commitment to free speech by easing restrictions on people's right to congregate, associate and express their opinions.

Endorsed by:

Sadanand Menon, art critic and journalist

Raj Cherubal

Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk.

Karen Coelho, Academic

Florina Benoit

Gladston Xavier

V. Krishna Ananth, lawyer

TSS Mani, Human rights activist

Nityanand Jayaraman, Independent journalist

V. Suresh

D. Nagasaila

Jeny Dolly, Youth for Social Change

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