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NWMI Condemns Assault on Journalist Nikhil Wagle

NWMI Condemns Assault on Journalist Nikhil Wagle

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The Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) strongly condemns the assault on senior journalist Nikhil Wagle in Pune on Friday, 9 February 2024, and extends unwavering support to him. 

The Pune police and administration were reportedly aware of threats from workers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which heads the government at the Centre and runs a coalition government in Maharashtra. Wagle had been warned against delivering a lecture at the ‘Nirbhay Bano’ (Be Fearless) event in Pune.  BJP workers were apparently aggrieved over Wagle’s remarks on 4 February on the platform X (formerly Twitter) about the Bharat Ratna being awarded to senior BJP leader LK Advani. On the evening of 9 February, a mob of allegedly BJP workers vandalised the car in which Wagle and two others – human rights lawyer Aseem Sarode and activist Vishwambhar Choudhary – were travelling to the event. The attackers threw eggs and ink at the vehicle and landed blows on it, all in the presence of the police. Video evidence of this incident is in circulation on social media.

This assault is further evidence of the BJP’s recurring pattern of intolerance toward journalists who dare to question it. Resorting to brute force to silence dissent only underscores the party’s inability and unwillingness to engage in civilised debate. However, those who targeted Wagle underestimate his resilience. 

Throughout his career, Wagle has weathered numerous attacks from various political parties, including those heading previous regimes. Yet he remains steadfast in his condemnation of communalism and authoritarianism, and has earned widespread recognition for his courageous journalism. Despite the attack, he went on to deliver his scheduled address.

Ironically, Wagle – the victim in this episode – now faces charges under sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 500 (defamation) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at Pune’s Vishrambaug police station for his tweet about the Bharat Ratna. Such legal actions can have a chilling effect on freedom of the press and expression. 

It is a matter of grave concern that journalists in India are increasingly being targeted for the legitimate practice of journalism, which includes political commentary, which in turn includes critiquing the government and the party/parties in power. Freedom of the press is essential for a healthy democracy. It is therefore crucial for the authorities to respect journalists’ rights to report facts and express their views without fear of persecution.

In the present instance, given the perpetrators’ alleged affiliation with those in power and given the track record of the BJP government in various states and at the Centre, there are concerns about potential leniency from law-enforcement authorities. The NWMI therefore demands immediate action against all the culprits involved in orchestrating and executing this attack in Pune.

NWMI reiterates its commitment to Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression. We stand in solidarity with Nikhil Wagle and all other journalists who are being persecuted for having the courage to dissent.

 The Network of Women in Media, India

February 10, 2024

© 2024 Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI).

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