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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - India

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - India, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566a519.html [accessed 1 October 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.

Although India is the world's largest democracy, with a diverse and expanding media, government authorities remained sensitive to criticism in the press in 2003. Officials harassed journalists through lawsuits, using restrictive laws governing criminal defamation, contempt of court, and national security to silence reporters' accounts of corruption. Meanwhile, violence in the disputed state of Kashmir continued to endanger journalists.

In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the respected English-language daily The Hindu faced a slew of lawsuits from the state's chief minister, a former actress known by her first name, Jayalalitha. In April, the minister expelled 43 opposition members from the state legislature and briefly jailed them. When The Hindu ran two articles and an editorial lambasting her actions, Jayalalitha responded by filing as many as 17 separate criminal defamation cases against The Hindu, according to the paper's editor, Narasimhan Ram, known as N. Ram. Another editor and the publisher are named in all the cases, along with eight staff members who are cited in different individual cases against the paper. If they are convicted, the journalists face up to 17 two-year sentences each, which could be served either concurrently or consecutively.

Further pressuring the paper, on November 7, the Tamil Nadu legislature ordered The Hindu's five senior editors, as well as an editor from the Tamil-language newspaper Murasoli, jailed for 15 days each. The lawmakers passed a resolution formally charging the journalists with breach of privilege and "gross contempt" of the legislature because their articles "cast a slur on the chief minister's actions." India's Supreme Court halted the order on November 10, but the defamation cases against The Hindu continued. On December 15, The Hindu mounted a legal challenge against the criminal defamation law in the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violates the free speech provisions in the Indian Constitution. By year's end, Jayalalitha had filed three additional criminal defamation cases against The Hindu.

In the southeastern state of Karnataka, 30 journalists from 11 newspapers were charged on March 17 with contempt of court for reporting on an alleged sex scandal that occurred in November 2002 involving three judges from the state's High Court. Although the Karnataka High Court ruled on October 23 that each journalist would be tried separately, the Supreme Court temporarily suspended proceedings against the journalists on November 18.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which is designed to protect India's national security, was enacted in April 2002. The law allows police to demand any information they believe could help to curb terrorism, and local journalists remain concerned that it could infringe on their rights. Although the act was meant specifically to fight Islamic militants in areas like Kashmir, it has mainly been used in other states, including Tamil Nadu. R.R. Gopal, editor of the Tamil-language magazine Nakkheeran, became the first journalist to be arrested under POTA on April 11, 2003, when he was accused of aiding a banned Tamil militant group because he allegedly possessed some of the group's leaflets at the time of his arrest. Gopal denies the charges and accuses Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha of trying to punish him for his articles exposing corruption in her administration. The Madras High Court ordered Gopal released on bail on December 20. A Judicial Committee is scheduled to meet in January 2004 to review the legality of the Tamil Nadu government's use of POTA against Gopal.

On July 27, 2003, a group of journalists from the now defunct online news agency Tehelka.com were charged under the Official Secrets Act, a draconian, colonial-era law, for possessing "secret documents" deemed harmful to the state. The charges stemmed from a story titled "Are Dutch Innocent?" that ran on the Web site on October 9, 2000. India's Home Ministry claimed that the story contained information from secret government file number 11011/40/99, titled "Dutch Interest in India's Fringe Politics," which included the minutes of a confidential government meeting with the Dutch ambassador. The government alleged that Tehelka.com reprinted the minutes almost verbatim from the secret file. At year's end, the case against the Web site had not been heard in court. That was not the first time Indian officials had targeted Tehelka.com. In 2001, the site made headlines when it obtained a video of senior politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accepting bribes. Revenge from officials came in 2002, when two journalists from the site were arrested and later released on bail.

Iftikhar Gilani, the New Delhi bureau chief for the Jammu-based newspaper Kashmir Times, was also charged under the Official Secrets Act. He was arrested in June 2002 and jailed for seven months for allegedly possessing classified documents. The documents in Gilani's possession, which were about military operations, were actually readily available to the public on the Internet. The charges against him were eventually dropped, and he was released on January 13, 2003.

Despite peace efforts in Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim, violence increased in the disputed territory. Journalists have long been vulnerable to attack, and 2003 was no exception. In April, when the prime ministers of India and Pakistan made a conditional agreement to hold peace talks, a surge of violence killed at least 30 people in 10 days. On April 26, separatist militants detonated a car bomb in front of the offices of the state broadcasters Doordarshan Television and Radio Kashmir, which the militants view as mouthpieces for the Indian government. Five people, including three separatist gunmen and two security guards, were killed in an ensuing gunfight. Four days later, on April 29, a local news service reported a threat from the militant group Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen, which accuses local journalists of being on the payroll of Indian intelligence agencies. The militants wrote, "We inform such journalists that they will be killed if they fail to mend their ways."

Two journalists were killed in India in 2003, one of them in Kashmir. On January 31, Parvaz Mohammed Sultan, editor of the independent wire service News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir State, was shot and killed at his office by unidentified gunmen. Sultan's colleagues believe that he was targeted because of his work, although he had received no known threats before his killing and no one has claimed responsibility for the murder. Wire services like NAFA are frequently under pressure from both sides of the conflict. Since the fighting in Kashmir erupted into a civil war in 1989, ten journalists have been killed there, according to CPJ research. No one has been brought to justice in any of these cases.

The other journalist killed in India in 2003, Parmanand Goyal, was shot dead in his home north of the capital, Delhi. The Tribune newspaper reported that Goyal's son claims to have overheard men threatening his father to stop writing about a local political figure and the police, but the motive behind the murder has not yet been determined.

The deep-rooted tensions between India's Hindu majority and Muslim minority populations are exploited by local leaders for political gain. In February 2002, sectarian riots swept through the western state of Gujarat and killed hundreds, but the attacks remained a controversial subject for the Indian media in 2003. Journalists, diplomats, and human rights groups have reported that much of the violence was actually organized and encouraged by political leaders and groups associated with the ruling BJP. Journalists who covered the violence were vulnerable to attack by the unruly mobs, as well as to harassment and assault by police who did not want evidence of their complicity in the attacks publicized.

In 2003, officials continued their efforts to silence stories about the riots. In March, India's Central Board of Film Certification, which has the authority to alter or ban movies it deems controversial, censored a Hindu-language documentary called "Aakrosh" (Cry of Anguish), which featured interviews with survivors of the communal violence. In the letter denying certification to the film's producers, the board wrote that "the film depicts violence and reminds the people about the Gujarat riots last year. It shows the Government and Police in a bad light. The overall impact of the film is negative as it leads to communal hatred."

With its population of 1 billion people and low literacy rate, India increasingly gets its news from a wide variety of satellite and cable television channels. According to the ratings service TAM Media Research, India's television news audience has grown 80 percent in the last two years. As many as six new 24-hour cable news channels were scheduled to be on the air by the end of 2003, in addition to the existing news channels TV Today, NDTV, BBC, and CNN. The Indian government still controls most nonsatellite television and radio stations through the public broadcaster Prasar Bharati.

International media companies, including Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, covet access to India's expanding news audience. The Hong Kong-based Star Group, a subsidiary of News Corporation and Asia's largest broadcaster, was planning to launch its own satellite news channel, Star News, in India in April. But on March 18, the Cabinet voted to tighten restrictions on foreign access to news channels, capping ownership at 26 percent. By year's end, Indian officials had worked out a deal to facilitate the channel's launch after Star News partnered with an Indian company, but the Information and Broadcasting Ministry continued to delay final approval for the project.


2003 Documented Cases – India

JANUARY 31, 2003

Parvaz Mohammed Sultan, News and Feature Alliance
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

Sultan, editor of the independent newswire service News and Feature Alliance (NAFA), which is based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir State, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman.

Two men entered Sultan's office at around 5:30 p.m., according to news reports. After a brief conversation with Sultan, one of the men shot him in the head. The Associated Press (AP) reported that the killer used a pistol with a silencer. No one stopped the assailants from leaving the premises, which are located in the press enclave in central Srinagar.

Though Sultan was rushed to the hospital, doctors declared him dead within minutes of his arrival, police told the AP.

Sultan, 36, was known as an independent journalist and had worked for several local Urdu-language dailies during his career. In addition to running NAFA, he contributed investigative stories and columns to the Urdu-language newspaper Chattan, one of the oldest newspapers in Kashmir.

Journalists working in the disputed territory of Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim, have long been vulnerable to attack by various parties in the conflict. Sultan's colleagues told CPJ that though they were not aware of any specific threats against the journalist, news agencies such as NAFA are under constant pressure to carry statements issued by competing political and militant groups.

Police blamed the murder on militant groups but have not yet conducted a thorough investigation. No group claimed responsibility for Sultan's murder, and many of the leading militant organizations, including Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, condemned the killing, as did the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, the main separatist alliance.

MARCH 4, 2003

People's Media Initiative
CENSORED

India's Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) denied a certificate to the documentary "Aakrosh," which was produced by the People's Media Initiative, an independent production company. The denial prevents the film from being shown publicly. "Aakrosh," or "Cry of Anguish," is a 20-minute, Hindi-language documentary that features interviews with survivors of the communal violence that swept the western state of Gujarat in 2002.

On March 4, the CBFC notified the producers of "Aakrosh" that their application for a certificate had been denied. The filmmakers appealed the decision to the board's Revising Committee, which met on March 19 to screen the documentary. In a letter dated March 31, the committee upheld the board's decision, contending that the documentary "is not a balanced film. It not only flares up the scars of the riots but also shows the agony of one particular community, which may lead to communal disturbance."

In the CBFC's March 4 letter to the filmmakers explaining the decision, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ, the board listed several "Reasons for Refusal of Certificate," including the fact that, "The film depicts violence and reminds the people about the Gujarat riot last year. It shows the Government and Police in a bad light. The overall impact of the film is negative as it leads to communal hatred."

The film's producers say "Aakrosh" does not show footage of the violence and is not incendiary. The film "preaches the importance of peace and communal harmony," said a statement from the People's Media Initiative. "We wanted to show the futility of the violence and tell the people that violence of any kind is bad." The filmmakers say they did not identify the victims interviewed by name or religion to avoid contributing to further polarization between Hindu and Muslim communities.

The clashes in Gujarat began on February 27, 2002, when a Muslim mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 59 people, according to official reports. More than 2,000 Muslims were killed in the retaliatory violence that followed. Journalists, diplomats, and human rights groups have reported that much of this violence was organized and encouraged by political leaders and groups associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that governs Gujarat State and leads India's national coalition government.

Arvind Trivedi, a former actor and BJP politician from Gujarat, currently heads the CBFC.

APRIL 26, 2003

Doordarshan Television
Radio Kashmir
ATTACKED

At about 1 p.m., assailants detonated a car laden with explosives near the main gate of an office complex housing Doordarshan Television and Radio Kashmir, in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. The attackers then threw a grenade into the security post outside the building and tried to enter the offices. A gunfight ensued, during which the three assailants and two security officers were killed.

The Indian government owns both media outlets. The week before the attack, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan made a conditional agreement to hold peace talks over Kashmir, which both countries claim. After the agreement was announced, a surge of violent attacks in Kashmir killed at least 30 people in 10 days.

A little-known group calling itself the Al Madina Regiment claimed responsibility for the attack on the news organizations in phone calls to local media, according to Indian press reports. An unidentified caller who claimed to represent the group told Kashmir Press Service that, "We are not against a dialogue with India, but it should accept Kashmir as a disputed territory," according to The Associated Press.

Separatist militants have targeted Doordarshan Television and Radio Kashmir before, since they are viewed as mouthpieces for the Indian government.

APRIL 29, 2003

Journalists in Kashmir
THREATENED

The militant group Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen issued a threat against journalists working "against the freedom struggle" in the disputed territory of Kashmir. The organization is one of more than a dozen armed groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim.

The rebel group's statement was published by the Current News Service, a private news agency based in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. In the statement, a senior commander of Tehrik-ul-Mujahideen was quoted as saying, "There are seven dailies among the local ones and a well-known news agency which work at the behest of the Indian (intelligence) agencies and are paid by them," according to a translation of the report prepared by The Associated Press. "We inform such journalists that they will be killed if they fail to mend their ways," added the commander, identified as Dr. Abd-ar-Rabb. The statement did not identify any journalist or news organization by name.

JUNE 24, 2003
Posted: July19, 2004

Indra Mohan Hakasam, Amar Assam
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

Hakasam, a correspondent with the Assam-language daily Amar Assam, was abducted at gunpoint from his home in Goalpara by members of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), an insurgent group in the mountainous northeastern province waging a separatist guerrilla war with India, according to local news reports.

Hakasam's family filed a report about his disappearance at the Rongsai police outpost in the Goalpara District of Assam on June 29, 2003. Since no body has been found and the ULFA has not officially claimed responsibility for Hakasam's disappearance and alleged death, police have not closed the case.

However, on February 20, 2004, eight months after his disappearance, ULFA sources told police officials that Hakasam had died of unspecified "illnesses." In fact, local police believe that lower-level UFLA members killed Hakasam long before, possibly on the day of his abduction, according to local journalists.

Hakasam's wife, Sabitri, appears to be in mourning, according to local journalists, because she now wears a white dress in accordance with the Hindu rituals for a grieving widow. Local police believe that Hakasam's family members may have received information about his execution from the ULFA, or from the head of their village.

CPJ sources say that state intelligence officials accused Hakasam of having contacts with the ULFA that were "too good" and claimed that ULFA field operatives would often deposit extorted money at Hakasam's house for safekeeping. Local sources say that Hakasam may have had a disagreement with the ULFA relating to extortion money, which could have ultimately led to his death.

In November 2003, local newspapers had quoted rebel sources saying that Hakasam had been killed by the ULFA. The Journalists' Union of Assam (JUA) organized a one-day sit-in strike on November 21, 2003, at the press club in the town of Guwahati, where Hakasam's newspaper is published, to demand that the ULFA provide information about the journalist. The JUA also submitted a memorandum to the Assam Government and Goalpara District authorities urging them to help locate Hakasam and probe his disappearance. But, by February 2004, after the unofficial declaration of Hakasam's death from "illnesses," the movement came to an end.

The ULFA is not known for kidnapping journalists, but they have been blamed for the deaths of at least one other journalist, according to local journalists and CPJ research: Parag Kumar Das, editor-in-chief of Asomiya Pratidin, the largest circulation daily in Assam, who was gunned down in Guwahati in 1996, allegedly by a splinter group of the ULFA.

JULY 27, 2003

Anirudh Bahal, Tehelka.com
Mathew Samuel, Tehelka.com
LEGAL ACTION

Editor Bahal and reporter Samuel, both of Tehelka.com, a hard-hitting investigative news Web site, were charged with conspiracy in connection with a story published on the Web site in October 2000. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed the complaint against the journalists under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), alleging that information in the story came from a secret government file. Two officials from the Home Ministry and Buffalo Networks, which owns the Web site, also had complaints filed against them.

The charges came after the joint secretary at the Indian Home Ministry ordered an Intelligence Bureau inquiry into a Tehelka.com story titled "Are the Dutch Innocent." The ministry claimed that the story contained information from secret government file number 11011/40/99, titled "Dutch Interest in India's Fringe Politics," which included the minutes of a confidential government meeting. The government alleged that Tehelka.com reprinted the minutes almost verbatim from the secret file. Dutch Ambassador Peter Loch also protested to the Federal External Affairs Ministry about the details in the article when it was published in 2000.

The Web site's troubles began in March 2001, when it ran an investigative story that included a videotape clip showing a politician from the Defense Department accepting a bribe. Several charges were subsequently leveled against Tehelka.com by agencies such as the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate, and the Income Tax and Intelligence Bureau during the next two years.

Tarun Tejpal, founder and editor-in-chief of the Web site, says that Tehelka.com is a victim of competing political interests and a largely corrupt Indian establishment. In 2002, he claims, Tehelka.com spent "35,000 man-hours combating cock-and-bull charges."

Other reporters from Tehelka.com also claim that the government has harassed them because of their reporting. Reporter Kumar Badal spent six months in jail in 2002 on alleged poaching charges after doing an undercover story on poaching in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. In August 2003, Bahal was arrested after a CBI officer accused the journalist of having "threatened" him. Bahal was released on bail the same day.

AUGUST 11, 2003

Ashwini Kumar Tripathi, Rozana
ATTACKED, HARASSED

Security officers in Lucknow, the capital of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, denied access to and assaulted Tripathi, a senior correspondent for the Delhi-based television news agency Rozana, during a visit to the city by Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

In advance of the president's visit, journalists in Lucknow were issued security passes, along with invitations to cover several functions that the president was to attend, according to Tripathi. On August 11, the reporter and his crew attempted to reach one event via a road patrolled by the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC), a special state police unit charged with security during the president's visit. PAC officers intercepted the journalists' car at an intersection and refused to allow the crew to pass through, according to Tripathi and other local journalists.

Tripathi stepped out of the car and told them that he was a journalist covering the day's events. Although the reporter showed the officers his security pass, they taunted him and then brutally beat him while yelling, "Kill him, he's a terrorist," according to Tripathi. Terrified, Tripathi ran from his assailants, but several PAC officers followed him, beating the reporter with canes and throwing rocks at him as he ran. Tripathi was able to escape by jumping a barrier wall. There, local residents found him and hid him in their house. Eventually, other Lucknow journalists who heard of the attack located Tripathi and brought him to the hospital. He had sustained severe injuries to his hands and back and remained in the hospital for three days.

The Uttar Pradesh State Accredited Correspondents' Committee told CPJ that a case had been filed with local police officials, and that journalists in Lucknow are awaiting a response.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2003

Parmanand Goyal, Punjab Kesari
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

Goyal, a journalist with the daily Punjab Kesari, was shot and killed by three unidentified assailants at his home in Kaithal, Haryana, north of the capital, Delhi, according to local press reports. CPJ is investigating the motives behind his murder.

According India's The Tribune newspaper, Goyal's son Naveen Rinku answered the door at Goyal's home, and three men asked to speak with his father. Rinku told Goyal about the visitors and asked the men to wait in the backyard. The Tribune reported that Rinku claims to have overheard the men threatening his father to stop writing about a local political figure and the police. Soon after, Goyal was found wounded in the backyard, and his assailants fled the scene. Goyal was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival, according to press reports.

Goyal had been arrested on corruption charges in May and was released on bail in early September. His family says that the charges against him were false.

Goyal was the district president of the Haryana Union of Journalists. Local journalists, outraged by the murder, gathered on September 19 for a moment of silence in his memory and to call for an investigation into his murder.

SEPTEMBER 25, 2003

Ahmad Ali Fayaz, Daily Excelsior
THREATENED

Fayaz, Srinagar bureau chief for the Daily Excelsior, received a threatening phone call from a senior officer of the Border Security Force (BSF) who identified himself as Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Desraj. According to Fayaz, Desraj threatened to shoot him because of a recent article he had written about alleged abuses by the Indian army.

Fayaz contacted a local commander to complain about the threatening call and filed a formal complaint with the police. According to Fayaz, the local commander spoke with Desraj, who admitted calling Fayaz but denied making any threats.

Local journalists were outraged by the death threat and have urged national and local officials to take immediate measures against Desraj.

NOVEMBER 7, 2003
Posted: November 11, 2003

N. Ravi, The Hindu
Malini Parthasarathy, The Hindu
S. Rangarajan, The Hindu
V. Jayanth, The Hindu
Radha Venkatesan, The Hindu
S. Selvam, Murasoli
LEGAL ACTION

The state assembly of the southern province of Tamil Nadu sentenced five journalists from the daily Hindu and one journalist from the Tamil-language daily Murasoli to 15-day jail sentences on November 7 after finding them guilty of "breach of privilege" for writing critical articles and an editorial about local Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram, whose party dominates the state assembly. The assembly accused The Hindu of "gross contempt" for four articles published in April 2003.

The Hindu, one of India's oldest and most respected dailies, had written critically about the government's "crude use of state power" after political opponents were arrested and independent journalists were harassed.

After the Hindu journalists were charged on November 7, they went into hiding. Police raided the newspaper's headquarters in Madras on November 8, and searched the editors' offices.

Selvam, the editor of Murasoli, was also charged for printing a translation of one of The Hindu's editorials and went into hiding, as well. The journalists sent a petition to the Supreme Court on November 8 asking that the arrest warrants be nullified.

Local and national journalist groups in India were appalled at the sentencing of the six journalists. On November 9, hundreds of journalists in Madras went on a one-day fast in protest of the charges. Reporters in New Delhi burned Jayaram in effigy.

India's Supreme Court stayed the arrest of the six journalists on November 10, but the Tamil Nadu government filed a defamation case against The Hindu on the same day, and another criminal defamation case filed by Jayalalitha against The Hindu will be heard on December 22.

DECEMBER 9, 2003
Posted: January 29, 2004

Tahir Mohi-ud-din, Chattan
THREATENED

Members of the militant group Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) ransacked the office of Chattan, the well-respected Urdu-language weekly, and allegedly attempted to kidnap editor Tahir Mohi-ud-din.

Mohi-ud-din told the Excelsior daily that while working at his office, he received a telephone call from JKLF chairman, Mohammad Yaseen Malik. According to the editor, Malik objected to the publication of an anonymous person's "highly offensive letter" about him, and threatened Mohi-ud-din over the phone using profane and abusive language.

Half an hour later, a group of about 20 men barged into Mohi-ud-din's office and ordered him to come with them to see Malik. When Mohi-ud-din refused, the men ransacked the office and tried to set it on fire.

Mohi-ud-din was rescued by police, who took him to the nearest police station. The editor filed a formal complaint against the JKLF militants, and police have made one arrest in the case, according to the Excelsior.

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