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Attacks on the Press in 2008 - India

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 10 February 2009
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2008 - India, 10 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4992c497c.html [accessed 24 July 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.

A series of coordinated terrorist attacks that struck more than a dozen locations in the commercial capital, Mumbai, killing more than 170 and wounding hundreds, shocked the world and punctuated a year of growing tension and risk. Witnesses became journalists as they Twittered up to 100 messages a minute, posted photos to Flickr, and transmitted cell-phone video to television networks, all of which provided a hectic yet compelling real-time account of the horrific three-day siege in late November. The instantaneous spread of information on the assault – which hit two lavish hotels, a top restaurant, a rail station, a Jewish center, and a hospital, among other sites – illustrated as much as any recent event the extraordinary revolution in media and communication.

India accused a Pakistan-based Islamist group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, of orchestrating the attacks and said the Pakistani government had allowed the militants to operate. The attack threw the already tenuous relations between the two countries into a crisis mode.

Throughout the year, local conflicts between separatists and insurgent groups on one hand and regional governments on the other created dangerous and unstable conditions for Indian journalists, particularly in rural areas. Violence in the disputed territory of Kashmir claimed the lives of two journalists, while a separatist insurgency in the northeastern state of Assam led to the deaths of two others. A journalist was also murdered in northern Bihar state, apparently by a criminal group. Insurgents and local officials repeatedly detained reporters, making clear that neutrality was an elusive goal in conflict-ridden areas.

Daily Excelsior photojournalist Ashok Sodhi was killed in May in an exchange of gunfire between militants and security forces near the line of control separating Indian- and Pakistani-administered sections of Kashmir. Militants in Kashmir have been fighting for independence or union with Pakistan since 1989. In June, a dispute over the transfer of land to a Hindu shrine triggered massive protests across Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state. In August, security forces imposed curfews in major towns to help quell unrest. At least 10 reporters carrying government-issued curfew passes were beaten while on reporting missions. On August 13, Javed Ahmed Mir, a part-time cameraman with Channel 9 television, was shot in the head and killed while trying to film protesters breaking the curfew. Mir was hit by fire from security forces, according to the BBC. Police and paramilitary forces said they were returning fire from the crowd.

Local journalists in Kashmir said the situation for the news media was worse than it had been in years. No curfew passes were given to news vendors, hampering distribution of publications that made it into print. The state government shut down local news channels and several broadcasts from Pakistan, according to Pakistani news reports, imposing a near news blackout for a week. Ahead of a planned protest in October, the government imposed a two-day, shoot-on-sight curfew and blocked transmission of the local SEN cable channel for "objectionable" broadcasts, news reports said. Protesters retaliated by posting amateur footage of brutal attacks by security forces online, the Economist reported.

In Assam, Asomiya Pratidin correspondent Mohammed Muslimuddin died en route to a hospital in Guwahati on April 1 after an armed group attacked him with sharp instruments near his residence in a nearby village. "He had written a series of reports on various anti-social and criminal activities in the area in the past few weeks," his editor told local reporters. Jagjit Saikia, a correspondent for the daily Amar Asom, was shot several times at point-blank range near his office in the town of Kokrajhar in November. Nava Thakuria, secretary of the Guwahati Press Club, told CPJ that Saikia may have been killed for his reporting on local ethnic tensions.

Journalists in Manipur, a neighboring state, negotiated a difficult line between competing militant groups and the state administration, according to Pradip Phanjoubam, editor of the English-language daily Imphal Free Press. The separatist Revolutionary People's Front joined forces with Maoists – often called Naxalites after the West Bengali village of Naxalbari, where they staged an uprising in 1967 – in the northeastern state in 2008, according to a joint statement issued in October.

In central Chhattisgarh state – where violence between Maoist insurgents, government security forces, and state-supported vigilantes escalated in recent years – journalists faced threats from all sides. Shubhranshu Choudhary, a New Delhi-based freelance journalist, told CPJ that he and an interpreter were detained in a Maoist-held area for four days in September on suspicion of being police agents.

In May, Chhattisgarh police detained freelance filmmaker, writer, and activist Ajay Thachhappully Gangadharan, who used the name Ajay T.G. on his blog. The filmmaker was held for three months under Chhattisgarh's Special Public Security Act after communicating with a Maoist group about the return of his camera, which the group had confiscated in 2004 fearing he was an undercover police officer, according to news reports. No charges were filed.

Media in the small state – where newspapers depend on government advertising – followed the official line when the filmmaker was freed. "Naxalite released on bail," one headline read, according to the Indo-Asian News Service. "If you're not for the government, you're antigovernment, and anything substantially antigovernment is not published in Chhattisgarh," Choudhary told CPJ. At least five other journalists accused of Maoist links were reportedly imprisoned during the year in Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Assam, and Andhra Pradesh.

Articles on sensitive subjects led to physical attacks from criminal and politically motivated groups. Vikas Ranjan, a correspondent for the Hindi-language daily Hindustan, was shot and killed in northern Bihar in November. Alok Mohit, local news editor for the sister paper Hindustan Times, told CPJ that Ranjan had been threatened after reporting on local trafficking in counterfeit merchandise and stolen goods.

On May 26, activists associated with the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi, a group working for the rights of Dalits, members of the so-called "untouchables" caste, set fire to the offices of the Telugu-language daily Andhra Jyothi in Andhra Pradesh for alleged negative coverage. In Maharashtra state, activists identifying themselves as members of the Shiv Sangram, an ethnic nationalist group, attacked the home of Kumar Ketkar, editor of the influential Marathi-language daily Loksatta. At least 10 assailants were arrested; they said the newspaper had disparaged the Hindu warrior king Shivaji in a June editorial that criticized a planned memorial. And in Tamil Nadu, a crowd supporting the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in neighboring Sri Lanka marched on the offices of The Hindu in October. The crowd set fire to hundreds of copies of the daily to protest perceived anti-Tamil coverage of the Sri Lankan civil war.

In two high-profile court cases, judges looked at press regulations through different prisms. The high court in the western state of Gujarat defended the media, rebuking a prosecutor for demanding state regulation of newspaper content. The prosecution sought restrictions after the Ahmedabad police commissioner filed sedition charges against a Times of India editor and reporter, and a Gujarat Samachar photographer, for a series of reports in May linking the official to an organized crime leader. The criminal charges were pending in late year. In Uttar Pradesh, after a double murder in Noida, lawyer Surat Singh filed a suit alleging that media speculation had damaged suspects' reputations. In an August hearing, Supreme Court Justice Markandey Katju said, "We will lay down guidelines on media coverage.... We are for media freedom. What we are saying is there is no absolute freedom." The case was pending in late year.

Little nationwide action was taken on behalf of journalists. "We based in Delhi have no idea about the goings-on in the length and breadth of the country," Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook weekly, told a Press Club of India meeting in February. He called on the Editors Guild of India to create a register to document incidents, according to news reports. The investigative sector of the metropolitan media, meanwhile, fought to maintain its share of a market that increasingly relied on upbeat news and celebrity gossip to draw advertising. P. Sainath, rural affairs editor of The Hindu, told an audience at New York's Columbia University in October that the mainstream Indian media had failed to report on a nationwide agrarian crisis that worsened in 2008. "Where we needed investigations, we made announcements," he said.

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