Saturday, February 13, 2016

Attack on journalists in Chhattisgarh: International pressure on Modi government to act, defend scribes mounts

By Our Representative
International pressure on the Narendra Modi government to urgently act for protecting the journalists, who are caught in the crossfire between the BJP government in Chhattisgarh and Naxalite insurgents, has sharply gone up, with at least four of the most well-known organizations taking strong exception to attack on scribes and human rights defenders in the state.
While the arrest last year of two vernacular journalists on charges of supporting Naxalites has already invited considerable criticism abroad, the latest attack on freelance journalist Malini Subramaniam, who is a contributor to independent English news site scroll.in, has taken the outrage at a new level.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which has presence in 139 countries, has demanded the administration should immediately act to protect journalists doing their duty, calling the attack on Subramaniam “a blatant attempt to stifle press freedom and intimidate the media.”
It recalled, earlier, the IFJ called for the release of two Chhattisgarh journalists, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, arrested on “charges of aiding Maoists and remain in the jail without charge sheets”.
The incident relates to a group of 20 people gathering in front Subramniam’s residence, shouting abusive slogans, including ‘death to Malini Subramaniam’, as well as pelting rocks at her home, which shattered her car windows. “The mob tried to encourage her neighbours to attack her, claiming she was a Maoist supporter”, the IFJ said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has said that the attack on Subramaniam faced the attacked for her reports on human rights abuses and the conflict between Maoist groups and the state in Chhattisgarh.
“Reporting from the region poses serious challenges”, says CPJ, adding, its research suggests that “police often pressure, harass, or abuse journalists in an effort to silence critical reporting or to compel them to serve as informants.”
The Dublin-based human rights organization, Front Line Defenders has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying how on February 8, 2016, Subramaniam “spent several hours at one of the local police stations in Bastar district in an attempt to file a complaint for the attack on her home.”
The letter says, chief police officer of Jagdalpur city Deepmala Kashyap refused to accept the FIR as he “claimed that no FIR could be filed without approval of the district chief police officer, who was not in his office on that day. As there was no officially approved FIR, the police took no action to investigate the case.”
It adds, “Police have also interrogated the human rights defender on many occasions, both at her home and at police stations. Scroll.in has tried to take these instances of intimidation of Subramaniam to the attention of the Chhattisgarh chief Minister, but he has never provided a formal response and only threatened the human rights defender.”
The letter insists, “The harassment of Malini Subramaniam is part of a larger crackdown on activists, lawyers and journalists standing up against abuses committed by police in the Bastar district.”
Referring to the attack on Subramaniam, Amnesty International, similarly, said, “Journalists and human rights defenders in Bastar have been at the receiving end of human rights abuses by both security forces and Maoist armed groups in connection with their work”, recalling how “Local journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag have been in judicial custody since July and September 2015.” It adds, these journalists have “faced repeated police harassment in the past, is suspected of rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder, as well as associating with a terrorist organization.”

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