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Attacks on the Press in 1996 - India

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1997
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1996 - India, February 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56505c.html [accessed 19 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Assaults and restrictions on journalists in regions torn by separatist wars continued to tarnish India's vaunted tradition of press freedom. And the lack of a strong central government following parliamentary elections in May allowed powerful political leaders to attack the press with virtual impunity.

Two journalists were murdered during the year in Assam and Kashmir – states that have been marked by internecine warfare between Indian troops, separatist militias, and Indian-backed counter-insurgency forces. Parag Kumar Das – editor of Asomiya Pratidin, the leading daily in Assam, as well as a human rights activist and outspoken proponent of self-rule for the state – was shot dead by suspected counter-insurgents in Guwahati, the state capital. In Kashmir, Ghulam Rasool Sheikh became the sixth local journalist to lose his life since the beginning of an armed uprising against Indian rule in late 1989. The editor of two minor Kashmiri newspapers, Sheikh was abducted and slain by men whom his family describe as members of an Indian-backed militia.

Parliamentary polling in Kashmir, conducted for the first time since the insurgency began, was marred by a press gag imposed by the federally appointed state government and threats from pro-Pakistan separatists. In a directive sent to local newspapers, state authorities warned of criminal prosecution of editors who published material that was "prejudicial" to the state's unity or integrity, or indicated a lack of faith in the state or federal constitutions. Following a counter-threat by the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen – the most powerful separatist group in Kashmir – to take severe measures against editors who published government statements or advertisements, the local press suspended publication for two months.

The parliamentary elections themselves marked a watershed in Indian politics: the routing of the long-ruling Congress Party, after several years of steadily waning support. But the result was a precarious alliance of regional and leftist parties rent by pronounced policy disputes. A coalition government was also mandated for Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, after elections there produced a hung state assembly. Frenetic negotiations between parties, aimed at forming a government in Uttar Pradesh, gave politicians with important vote banks unprecedented authority. This was borne out by the federal government's inaction when Kanshi Ram, head of the Bahujan Samaj Party and a leader of India's dalits (untouchables), and several supporters assaulted a group of journalists who had gathered outside his New Delhi home, hoping to obtain an interview. Authorities refused to press criminal charges against the assailants, while police harshly suppressed subsequent protest marches by local journalists.

Regional parties also behaved with unchecked hostility toward the press. In Mumbai (formerly Bombay), more than 500 activists from the ruling Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party attacked the offices of the Marathi-language daily Mahanagar, one of the few vernacular publications in the city that openly criticizes the Shiv Sena and a repeated target of organized assaults by Shiv Sena party members. Police arrested six Shiv Sena members in connection with the attack, and then released them on bail.

March 4
Aftab, ATTACKED
Al-Safa, ATTACKED
Uqab, ATTACKED

Armed men claiming to be members of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militant group entered a printing plant owned by the Srinagar daily newspaper Aftab and ordered its operators to immediately cease printing Aftab and its fellow Urdu dailies Al-Safa and Uqab. Srinagar's press community responded with a solidarity strike that was lifted two days later, after Hizb-ul-Mujahideen leaders denied responsibility for the closure order. CPJ condemned the raid in a press release and called on the Indian government and separatist leaders to cooperate in identifying the assailants.

March 6
Ghulam Nabi Khayal, Pakistan Television (PTV), ATTACKED

Khayal, a correspondent for PTV, survived a grenade attack on his house in the Rawalpora area of Srinagar, Kashmir. Three unidentified armed men stormed Khayal's residential compound and ordered him to leave with them. He refused and went into the house, closing the door behind him. The assailants opened fire on the house and threw two grenades at the building before leaving the compound. One of the grenades exploded, damaging the house but causing no injuries. The following morning, police recovered and defused the second, undetonated grenade. Though police officials claimed unspecified Kashmiri separatists were responsible for the grenade attack, Khayal told colleagues that Rawalpora is heavily patrolled by Indian troops and would have been difficult for armed separatists to enter. CPJ condemned the attack in a press release and called on Indian authorities and separatist leaders to cooperate in identifying the responsible parties.

April 10
Ghulam Rasool Sheikh, Rehnuma-e-Kashmir and Saffron Times, KILLED

The body of Sheikh, an editor of the Urdu-language daily Rehnuma-e-Kashmir and the English-language weekly Saffron Times, was found floating in Kashmir's Jhelum River. Sheikh had been missing since late March, when family members say he was kidnapped by an Indian-backed militia. Local police, however, claim that he was abducted and slain by separatist guerrillas. Prior to his death, Sheikh had spoken out against an increase in killings and arson incidents in the vicinity of his hometown, Pampur. He was also the head of an Islamic trust that is responsible for the management of shrines and mosques in the area. Sheikh's colleagues in the Kashmiri press called for a judicial inquiry into his murder. In a press release, CPJ condemned the slaying and endorsed calls by Kashmiri journalists for an official investigation into Sheikh's killing.

April 17
Kashmiri newspaper editors, CENSORED

Kashmir's federally appointed state government sent a directive to local newspaper editors, warning them that they faced criminal charges if they published statements by separatist leaders, material deemed "prejudicial to the unity and integrity of the state and the country," or articles that "directly or indirectly express lack of faith" in the state and federal constitutions. The directive, issued a month before federal elections were to be held in Kashmir, also barred "inflammatory matter likely to foment regional tension" and, in a vaguely worded provision, appeared to ban reports that would deter government employees from participating in the election process. In a press release, CPJ charged that the directive potentially encompassed any criticism of the electoral process, silenced debate over the issue of sovereignty, and undermined India's commitment to free and fair elections in Kashmir. On April 18, the pro-Pakistan Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Kashmir's most powerful separatist group, warned Kashmiri editors that they would be "dealt with severely" if they published government statements or advertisements in their newspapers. Responding to the threat and to the restrictions on the press introduced the previous day by the state government, newspaper editors in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, shut down their publications indefinitely. On June 18, publication resumed after editors and publishers reached an agreement with the state government and separatist groups.

May 17
Parag Kumar Das, Asomiya Pratidin, KILLED

Das, editor in chief of Asomiya Pratidin, the largest circulation daily in the northeast state of Assam, was fatally shot by unidentified gunmen in Guwahati, the state capital. Das was picking his son up from school when three men drove up in a car and opened fire on them. Das was hit at least eight times, and his 7-year-old son, Rohan, was shot in the right hand and injured. The gunmen fled the scene immediately after the shooting. A proponent of self-rule for Assam, Das had recently published an interview with the leader of the separatist group United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Das' colleagues suspect that his assassination was carried out by a splinter group of ULFA that had alleged ties to the previous administration in the state. Das was also general secretary of the Assamese human rights organization Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS) and publisher of its monthly newsletter, Voice of MASS. State police had arrested Das twice, in March 1992 and February 1993, under the National Security Law and the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act. The arrests were in connection with his human rights reporting and articles about ULFA. In December 1993, police also raided Das' office and home, seizing copies of a book he had written about Assam and manuscripts of articles he had published in Boodhbar, the newspaper he was then editing. In a letter to Indian authorities, CPJ urged them to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into Das' murder.

May 23
Tauseef Mustapha, Agence France-Presse (AFP), ATTACKED, HARASSED
Qaisar Mirza, Associated Press (AP), ATTACKED

Troops of the Border Security Force (BSF), a paramilitary group of the Indian army, beat AFP photographer Mustapha and AP correspondent Mirza while they were covering demonstrations against local elections in Baramulla, north of Srinagar, in the state of Kashmir. The troops smashed two of Mustapha's cameras and confiscated his film. Protestors called the elections an attempt by India to legitimize its claim to Kashmir.

May 30
Santosh Gupta, Hindustan Times, ATTACKED
Ravi Batra, Indian Express, ATTACKED
Ali Mohammad Sofi, Press Trust of India (PTI), ATTACKED
Shankar Chakraborti, Hindu, ATTACKED
Meraj-ud-din, Associated Press Television (APTV), ATTACKED
Prabhat Banber, Press Trust of India (PTI), ATTACKED

Six journalists: Gupta, a reporter for the Hindustan Times; Batra, a reporter for the Indian Express; Chakraborti, a reporter for the Hindu; Meraj-ud-din, a camera operator for APTV; and Banber and Sofi, both photographers for PTI were beaten by troops of the Border Security Force (BSF), a paramilitary group of the Indian army. The journalists were in Srinagar, Kashmir, covering demonstrations against local elections in Baramulla, a Kashmiri town north of Srinagar. Protesters called the elections an attempt by India to legitimize its claim to Kashmir. Sofi required two stitches in the head after being struck with a rifle butt. The journalists attempted to lodge a complaint with the election commissioner, but he refused to meet with them. In response, members of the media boycotted a press conference that evening by the State Chief Secretary of Kashmir.

July 8
Fayaz Ahmed, New Delhi Television, HARASSED
Gulzar Ahmed, Uqab, THREATENED
Masood Ahmed, Wadi-ki-Awaz, THREATENED
Shujaat Bukhari, Kashmir Times, THREATENED
Bilal Butt, Asian News International (ANI), HARASSED
Javed Farooq, The Pioneerr, Greater Kashmir, HARASSED
Arshad Hussein, ZeeTelevision, HARASSED
George Joseph, Business India Television (BITV), HARASSED
Fayaz Kabli, Reuters, HARASSED
Meraj-ud-din, Associated Press Television (APTV), HARASSED
Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters, HARASSED
Tauseef Mustafa, Agence France-Presse (AFP), HARASSED
Surinder Singh Oberoi, Agence France-Presse (AFP), HARASSED
Abdul Qayoom, Uqab, THREATENED
Maqbool Sahil, Chattan, THREATENED
Afzal Shah, Kashmir Times, HARASSED
Zahoor Shair, Al-Safa, THREATENED
Amin War, Daily Excelsior, HARASSED
Unidentified, Chattan, HARASSED

Gunmen for the Indian-backed militia Jammu and Kashmir Ikhwan abducted 19 journalists who were traveling together to a press conference in the Kashmir Valley. The gunmen intercepted the journalists at Anantnag, 50 kilometers (35 miles) south of Srinagar, and took them to the Ikhwan's nearby headquarters. There, Ikhwan commander Hilal Haider threatened to kill six of the journalists who worked for Kashmiri newspapers - reporters Gulzar Ahmed and Qayoom of Uqab, Masood Ahmed of Wadi-ki-Awaz, Bukhari of the Kashmir Times, Shair of Al-Safa, and photographer Sahil of Chattan - unless the editors of Srinagar's eight major dailies appeared before him by noon the following day. The editors had disregarded a "ban" that Haider had ordered on their newspapers the previous week for having given the Ikhwan inadequate coverage. The editors, who were informed of the threat to kill the journalists by phone, said they would not heed the summons. Seven-and-a-half hours after the abduction, the elite Indian commando unit Rashtriya Rifles intervened and secured the release of all 19 journalists. CPJ in a July 9 statement condemned the abduction and called for the disarming of the government-backed militias.

August 1
Ashraf Shaban, Al-Safa, ATTACKED, THREATENED

Shaban, editor in chief of Al-Safa, an Urdu-language daily published in Kashmir, was abducted by three unidentified men - one armed with a pistol - from Al-Safa's Srinagar offices and forced into an auto-rickshaw taxi. Shaban was taken to a private residence in the town of Chadoora, about 12 kilometers (eight miles) north of Srinagar. For nearly 24 hours, Shaban's captors repeatedly beat him and threatened him with death. They released him at the insistence of a woman whom he suspected was the landlord of the house. He then made his way back to his office in Srinagar, where he fainted and was immediately taken to a local hospital. Doctors released him later that afternoon. Local journalists speculated that an Indian-backed militia may have been involved in the kidnapping, since the place where Shaban was detained is near the base camp of one such militia.

October 25
Isar Ahmed, BiTV, ATTACKED
Maya Mirchandani, New Delhi Television, ATTACKED
Renuki Puri, Indian Express, ATTACKED
Anil Sharma, Pioneer, ATTACKED
Ashutosh Gupta, Aaj Tak Television, ATTACKED
Other journalists, ATTACKED, HARASSED

Followers of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Kanshi Ram assaulted at least five journalists in front of Ram's home. The five were among a group of reporters who wanted to question Ram about what his party planned to do after elections for the assembly in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh proved inconclusive. An enraged Ram slapped Gupta, a correspondent for Aaj Tak Television, and called on his followers to beat and shoot the journalists. Ram's staff and security detail - which included plainclothes members of the Delhi police - immediately attacked the reporters. Two of them were severely beaten, including Gupta and BiTV correspondent Ahmed, who was hospitalized for chest injuries. Delhi Television correspondent Mirchandani, Indian Express photographer Puri, and Pioneer photographer Sharma were also assaulted. Police made no arrests, and the Home Ministry referred the matter to the Press Council of India, which has the authority to make only nonbinding recommendations. On Oct. 26, local journalists organized a march to the Home Ministry to protest the government's failure to take action in response to the assaults. Delhi police violently suppressed the procession. When the protesters overran barricades the officers had set up, police fired tear gas shells and used a water cannon to disperse them. Two days later, police arrested and briefly detained 300 journalists who were attempting to hold a related protest march from the Indian Newspapers Society building to Parliament House.

December 14
Mahanagar, ATTACKED
Nikhil Wagle, Mahanagar, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Nishikant Bahaleroh, Mahanagar, IMPRISONED, HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION

Some 500 activists from the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena Party, which governs Maharashtra state, stormed the offices of the Marathi-language daily Mahanagar in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) after the paper published critical remarks by G. R. Khairnar, a former municipal commissioner, about Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray. While their fellow party members demonstrated outside, a number of activists entered the editorial office of Mahanagar through a rear window and disconnected phone lines, damaged office equipment, and attempted to set a fire. Six of the activists who broke into Mahanagar's office were arrested for causing a civil disturbance. All were released on bail. The police also registered charges against two editors of Mahanagar. On Dec. 18, the police charged Wagle, the paper's editor in chief, with defaming political leaders and causing civil unrest. Bahaleroh, an editor at Mahanagar, was charged on Dec. 20 with inciting civil unrest; he was held in jail for two days. Wagle said he viewed the charges merely as a form of harassment, and did not believe that either he or Bahaleroh would face trial.

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