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India: Chhattisgarh-based journalist harassed, delays in investigation

12 February 2016

PEN Delhi and the PEN All-India Centre in Bombay condemn in the strongest terms the recent harassment of Chhattisgarh-based journalist, Malini Subramaniam.

The impunity with which Malini Subramaniam was attacked is the latest in a trend in Chhatisgarh. Somaru Nag, an Adivasi journalist who was a stringer-cum-news agent with the Rajasthan Patrika was arrested in July 2015. Santosh Yadav, who used to gather news for multiple Hindi newspapers including Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh, was arrested by the police in September 2015. The accusations against Nag and Yadav appear entirely arbitrary, and credible human rights and justice organisations have stated that anti-terrorist and anti-Maoist laws have been employed in their cases with great force, and without reason.

We call on the police and Government of Chhatisgarh to do all in their power to bring those responsible for the attack on Malini Subramaniam to justice, support the release Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav  and protect journalists in the state.

Shovon Choudhary of PEN Delhi said, “the ability of journalists to pursue their profession without physical threat is fundamental to democracy. The authorities must do more to cease the harassment of journalists and others writing about local issues such as human rights violations, transparency and accountability, and protect every citizen under their jurisdiction from intimidation and violence, in keeping with rule of law.”

Subramaniam was the victim of two attacks on the evening of 7 February 2016. According to Scroll.in, a group of some 20 people surrounded her home in Jagdalpur, shouting slogans and death threats. The mob are also reported to have told her neighbours that they believe her to be a supporter of Maoist groups, and encouraged them to throw stones at her home. In the early hours of the following morning, unknown assailants threw stones at her home, breaking the windows of her car.

Ranjit Hoskote, General Secretary of the PEN All-India Centre, said: “The government of Chattisgarh must do everything in its power to guarantee the safety and security of journalists, and to ensure that they are not subjected to intimidation and violence aimed at preventing them from doing their work. What has happened to Malini Subramaniam is a symptom of the climate of fear that unfortunately prevails in Chattisgarh today. We must also remember that two other journalists, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, have been in prison in the state for several months already. This does not conduce to an environment of discussion and debate in which all citizens may freely participate. What is happening in Chattisgarh is not consonant with the values of a liberal democracy, as enshrined in the foundational charter of our Republic.”

According to reports, Subramaniam was able to identify two of the assailants as members of the Samajik Ekta Manch – a Jagdalpur-based forum formed to counter Naxalism in Bastar and support the work of the police in the area – who had visited her home in January and had questioned her about her work in a threatening manner.

Subramaniam’s written complaint was filed with police on 8 February, although they did not file a First Information Report (FIR), (a necessary stage in the judicial process and required to be registered by a constitutional bench of the Supreme Court under the Lalita Kumari judgment) until 10 February, after protests from women’s and media organisations. Initial and informal reassurances from senior police officers are welcome, but we call for prompt and sustained action on the ground against those who have threatened her.

PEN Delhi and the PEN All-India Centre call on the Chhattisgarh authorities to do all in their power to ensure the safety of Subramaniam, support the release Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav with damages and ensure the protection of all other journalists in the state, to ensure that all reports of attacks against journalists are fully and swiftly investigated and bring to justice anyone found responsible for abuses.

Background

Subramaniam is a regular contributor to the independent, online news website scroll.in. Between October 2015 and January 2016 she reported on the alleged torture of journalists, allegations of sexual violence committed by the security forces in Bijapur, and on alleged human trafficking in Bastar.

According to news reports, Subramaniam has been the victim of harassment on the part of the local police who, since January 2016, have made several visits to her home to question her about the nature of her work. Scroll.in wrote to the police to protest about at least one of the visits.

Subramaniam’s home, Jagdalpur, is the administrative headquarters of the southern Bastar district in Chhattisgarh province. Bastar, along with the districts of Bijapur, Sukma and Dantewada lie in the heart of the Maoist rebellion.

The frequent use of the overbroad provisions of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act as well as under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act has had a major chilling effect in the State of Chhattisgarh, the continued detention and the vagueness of accusations against Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav emphasise the dangers reporters from smaller towns face in the militarized resource-rich region of South Chhattisgarh where the state and Maoists have been locked in a decade-long battle.

Following two demonstrations by journalists in Bastar in October and December 2015 in protest at police harassment, the Chief Minister of the state reportedly announced the establishment of a committee of editors to act as a mediator between journalists and police. This committee has yet to be formed.

For more information, please contact:

PEN DELHI [pendelhi@gmail.com]

THE PEN ALL-INDIA CENTRE [india.pen@gmail.com]

 

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