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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - India

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - India, February 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c5653923.html [accessed 20 August 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.

India's aggressive economic liberalization policies continued as the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, but so did harassment of the press in some regions. India's claim to being a modernizing democracy was undermined by state-tolerated assaults and intimidation against journalists in areas traditionally troubled by violent secessionist and sectarian movements and other social tensions.

The United Front coalition government of Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral was toppled on November 28 when the Congress Party withdrew parliamentary support for the ruling coalition. The dissolution ended a month-long political crisis prompted by the leaking of the Jain Commission report, which indicted the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party (DMK) for involvement in the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

On December 4, President K.R. Narayanan announced his decision to dissolve the country's parliament and called for fresh elections to be held by March 15, 1998. Gujral's seven-month-old government had pledged to crack down on widespread corruption, and senior officials, including former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, were prosecuted for their roles in various scandals. India's vaunted tradition of press freedom was much on display as national newspapers and broadcast media aggressively pursued the corruption story, hastening the prosecution of tainted officials.

In the northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir, where a decades-old secessionist movement has captured world attention, journalists are threatened on two fronts. Indian security forces in this officially "disturbed area" are granted sweeping powers to discourage media coverage that could risk national security. Separatist militants, on the other hand, threaten journalists whose reporting might be considered unfavorable. Altaf Ahmed Faktoo, a news reader for the official Indian television network Doordarshan Kendra in the capital city of Srinagar, was shot and killed by militant separatists in January. Two months later, Saidain Shafi, a contributor to programs carried on Doordarshan, was killed by suspected militant separatists. Shafi is the eighth journalist murdered in Kashmir since the armed insurgency against Indian rule erupted in 1989, and the fourth who was targeted because of his work with the state-owned broadcast media.

The restoration of elected government in Jammu and Kashmir in October 1996, after seven years of federal rule and the subsequent appointment of a regional human rights commission, failed to curb state-sanctioned human rights abuses. In late June, Surinder Oberoi, a reporter for Agence France-Presse in Kashmir, was brutally beaten by Indian security forces. Afterward, scores of journalists staging a protest rally on behalf of their colleague were tear-gassed by police. These incidents and the history of unchecked official hostility toward journalists have cowed the local press. Kashmiri journalists report that self-censorship has become routine.

Elsewhere, police in Assam, backed by state and federal officials, engaged in torture, unlawful killings, "disappearances" and other abuses of human rights including violations of press freedom in the region. Ajit Bhuyan, editor of the widely read Assamese-language newspaper Asomiya Protidin and its sister paper, Sadin, was repeatedly arrested because of the papers' critical coverage of the tense separatist conflict.

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