Violence Against Journalists Continues in Chhattisgarh State

The International Federation of

Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned by continuing reports of the harassment

and violent intimidation of journalists in Dantewada district in the Bastar

region of Chhattisgarh state in central India.

 

Since the active denial of access to

the site of a developing story early last week, which the IFJ noted

with concern, sources in Chhattisgarh have revealed that there has been a

sequence of incidents in which journalists seeking to travel to the scene of a

purported armed encounter between security forces and Maoist insurgents have

been blocked and assaulted, reportedly with the sanction of the

police.

 

Following initial media reports that

a number of homes in the tribal village of Tarmedla and its environs had been razed

by security forces as reprisal for a Maoist attack on an armed patrol, the

district administration in Dantewada constituted a special team to determine the

facts and distribute relief supplies. Bastar

Impact editor Suresh Mahapatra was accompanying the team to Tarmedla

on March 25, when the team was intercepted en route by a group that reportedly

included police personnel.

 

The driver of one of the vehicles

carrying relief supplies to the displaced families was beaten up, government

officials in the team were compelled to turn back and one of the team’s cars was

damaged in a collision, seemingly deliberate, with a truck. The journalists were

allowed to proceed, but were reportedly trailed by police vehicles on their

return journey. On reaching the district headquarters town, the journalists

learnt of an arrest warrant against them for allegedly ramming their vehicle

into a truck.

 

The journalists were spared further

harassment by the intervention of top officials of the civil administration, but

it is believed that the district police have registered a case against them and

might press for their arrest.

 

On March 25, a team led by the

social activist and former member of Parliament, Swami Agnivesh, was intercepted

and forced to turn back when on its way to Tarmedla. Journalists travelling with

the team had their laptop computers and cameras snatched, though these were

later returned.

 

Agnivesh sought yet again to make

the trip to Tarmedla the following day, after an assurance of safe passage from

the highest elected official of the state, Chief Minister Raman Singh. Though

granted police protection on this phase of his mission, the team was met in the

Dornapal area, by a large group of local residents who heckled its members and

assaulted the journalists. The police reportedly did little to contain the

violence after the leader of their party, an officer of the rank of Additional

Superintendent, was pushed aside and injured.

 

During the incident Zee TV

correspondent Naresh Mishra, a senior member of the local working journalists’

union, the Chhattisgarh Shramjeevi Patrakar Sangh, became separated from the

media group and suffered a severe beating. Azad Saxena of the ETV news channel

had to seek shelter in a village for several hours before returning home much

later. The windows of the car that his colleague, cameraman Srinivas was

travelling in, were shattered. A journalist who had come across from the

neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, Venu Gopal, was also reported missing for

several hours, though he has now found his way back

home.

 

“The IFJ extends it support to

journalists in Dantewada district and the wider region of Bastar in Chhattisgarh

state, as they seek to cope with a situation of escalating violence,”

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline

Park said.

 

“We are encouraged by the display of

solidarity by journalists who on March 27 organised a protest demonstration in

Jagdalpur, principal town of the Bastar region.”

 

The IFJ calls upon the local

administration in Dantewada district and the Chhattisgarh State Government to

ensure accountability for the most recent sequence of violent actions against

journalists.

 

“We call upon the local

administration to make an example of those behind these attacks and establish a

firm norm that violence against journalists will be firmly dealt with,” Park

said.

 

For further information contact IFJ

Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125

countries

 

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@ifjasiapacific

 

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