IFJ Protests Over Police Attempts to Muzzle the Media in India

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, today condemned the highhandedness of Punjab police in a midnight action reminiscent of the days of militancy when the police took law into their own hands.

On the night of August 28, a police team, reporting directly to inspector general of police (IGP), Sumedh Saini, stormed into the residence of The Indian Express principal correspondent Gautam Dheer and took him away.

"The arbitrary and illegal arrest of Gautam Dheer is a chilling reminder that the high-handed attitudes of police towards journalists are not a thing of the past," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

"Using trumped-up charges against journalists to protect a high-ranking police officer from public embarrassment or exposure cannot be condoned by the police force or the government," said the IFJ President.

Breaking every rule, the police, some in uniform and some in civilian clothes, did not identify themselves, gave no reason for the arrest, possessed no warrant or court order, denied Dheer access to a lawyer, refused to even confirm where they had taken him. It was well after midnight before news came that Dheer was detained at the Kharar Police Station. No one from his family or the newspaper was allowed access until early the next morning. Later on August 29, Dheer was released on bail.

Director general of police, SS Virk, claimed that Dheer had been arrested for "threatening a minor girl" allegedly raped in Nayagaon village near Chandigarh in 2003. IGP Saini is heading the investigations into the case.

Dheer was arrested after reporting about complaints made by two Nayagaon residents to the Punjab State Human Rights Commission alleging police harassment by IGP Saini. Dheer was threatened by Saini against reporting the story and told his wife on the morning of August 28 that if he "went missing" she should contact his resident editor.

"This outrageous attempt to suppress the truth and implicate a reporter in a criminal case must be strongly resisted," said the IFJ President Christopher Warren.

"It is reassuring that the Punjab government has ordered an inquiry into the incident and Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has made a commitment to take action against police officials if they are found guilty," said the IFJ President.

"However, the fact that such an appalling abuse of police power can be allowed in the first place is extremely concerning. It is a sad state of affairs that journalists need to be vigilant and speak out to protect against police taking the law into their own hands," said Warren.

For more information please contact Christopher Warren +61 (0) 411 757 668

The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries