IFJ Calls for Immediate Release of Editor Arrested in India

The

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed to learn of the arrest

of B.V. Seetaram, chairman and chief editor of Chitra Publications, by police

in the district of Udupi in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Seetaram,

whose principal publication is the evening newspaper, Karavali Ale,published

from the adjoining district headquarters town of Mangalore, is reportedly being held on

charges of defamation filed two years ago. He was arrested while travelling

with his wife through Udupi district by car. The police have also detained his

wife who is a director of Chitra Publications.

When

produced before a magistrate in Udupi on January 5, Seetaram reportedly refused

to move for bail, since there were political forces in his home district who were

allegedly intent on causing him harm.

Reports

received by the IFJ suggest that the police had no arrest warrant when they

took Seetaram into custody.

"We are opposed in principle to criminal defamation

laws and the arrest of an editor is a matter of serious concern," said

Jacqueline Park, IFJ Director for the Asia Pacific.

The IFJ is informed that

Seetaram had in December 2008 lodged a complaint with the Press Council of

India (PCI), alleging that there were systematic efforts afoot by political

forces in Karnataka, to prevent the distribution of his newspaper on a regular

basis.

The PCI has since issued

notice to the local authorities, asking them to investigate these complaints.

The IFJ learns that Seetaram

and his newspaper have been targeted by the authorities in Karnataka on earlier

occasions too. He and his wife were arrested in March 2007 on charges of

fomenting animosity on grounds of religion, though the case was not brought to

trial.

A few days before Seetaram

and his wife were arrested last year, their offices were broken into and

valuable assets either destroyed or stolen.

"We understand that some

incidents of communal conflict witnessed in Mangalore and its adjoining areas

over the last few months have sharply polarised public opinion", said the IFJ Asia Pacific.

"Though Seetaram has been

accused of fomenting animosity on grounds of religion, we are informed that he

has done little else than name names of those responsible for the recent bouts

of violence in the area".

"We urge the local

authorities to ensure that the situation is not aggravated by invoking rarely

used powers of suppressing the right of free expression through the press".

The IFJ calls for the immediate release of Seetaram

and his wife and a full explanation from the Karnataka state police on the

motivations behind its most recent acts of persecution against the press.

For further information

contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612

9333 0919

The IFJ represents over

600,000 journalists in 123 countries