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India 13 January 2006

Journalist flees harassment by police

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the harassment to which Kamlesh Paikra, the correspondent of the regional daily Hindsatt in the district of Dantewada (in the southeastern state of Chhattisgarh), has been subjected for months by police and militia because of his reporting on the Maoist Naxalite guerrillas. He has been forced to flee his home and has lost his job.

"It is absolutely shameful the way some authorities hound journalists trying to cover the chaotic reality prevailing in several regions of India," the press freedom organisation said. "We call on the Chhattisgarh state government to protect journalists and guarantee the right to inform. The New Delhi government must also intervene to ensure that the rights of reporters are respected in this region."

Paikra and his family have been the target of all-out harassment since April 2005. Members of the anti-Maoist Salwa Judum militia recently ransacked his home because of the many articles be has written about the activities of the Maoist rebels. Several police officers, including D. L. Marhar of Bijapur, have tried to get him to reveal his sources. The threats became more frequent after he refused.

The police and the Salwa Judum militia have been monitoring his activities closely since September. At the same time, the local government refused to issue him with a business permit, which he needed in order to take up a second trade because his correspondent’s pay was not enough to cover his family’s needs. He is aged 27.

He received a death threat in December after helping a delegation of politicians visit a village destroyed by the Salwa Judum militia. His brother was meanwhile detained for two weeks for possession of Maoist literature. He fled from Bijapur with his family at the end of December.

Another Bijapur-based journalist, Lakshman Singh Kusram, was threatened by police at the beginning of this month after reporting in a local publication that women had been beaten by members of the CRPF police.

Several senior officials in the state of Chhattisgarh threatened to arrest journalists or close down their news media last year for interviewing Maoists. Baliram Kashyap, a parliamentary representative of the Bharatiya Janata Party (which controls Chhattisgarh) caused an outcry by telling a local newspaper on 1 September that journalists who "glorified Maoists" should be killed.

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