Press freedom was threatened by the violence of political parties as well as religious and separatist groups. In some states, beleaguered by rebellion, the authorities have also turned against independent journalists. Courts made rulings which were contrary to the spirit of the Constitution, which protects freedom of the press.
Three staff members on the Tamil-language newspaper Dinakaran were killed in May in an arson attack on offices of the Madurai-based daily in Tamil Nadu state, in the south-east of the country. The culprits - supporters of MK Azhagiri, one of the sons of Kalaignar Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu chief minister - acted after the daily published an opinion poll putting one of his brothers at the head of a list of possible successors to their father. The building also houses Sun TV and the newspaper Tamil Murasu. The case provided an appalling demonstration of the contempt towards press independence felt by some political militants and religious followers.
In April, a group of activists, the Hindu Rashtriya Sena, raided the offices of Star TV in Mumbai and used hammers to smash computers, cameras, windows and furniture after the station broadcast programmes about inter-religious marriage. The magazine Outlook in Mumbai was attacked in August by six militants of the extremist Hindu party Shiv Sena. They threatened reprisals against staff that were present for including the movement’s founder, Bal Thackeray, in a list of “villains” Indians, carried in a special edition marking the 60th anniversary of Indian independence. The article was illustrated with a cartoon showing him dressed as Adolf Hitler.
Two journalists were held in Western Bengal state for several days in March by members of the Communist Party of India (CPI) which rules the state. Gouranga Hazra and Bholanath Bijali, who work for Tara News television, were reporting on extremely violent demonstrations pitting peasants against CPI members.
In a verdict that represented a danger to press freedom, a court in New Delhi sentenced four journalists on the newspaper Mid-Day to four months in prison after they revealed that a former leading judge, Y. K. Sabharwal had authorised the demolition of buildings to benefit his son’s company. Editor, S. K. Akhtar, two journalists Vitsha Oberoi and Irfan Khan and cartoonist M. K. Tayal were released on bail after deciding to appeal. The Editor’s Guild of India called the sentence “a threat to press freedom”.
Violence in Assam and Kashmir
Separatists continued to threaten the media in the north-eastern states. In June, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) said it planned to “punish” four journalists who had been involved in organising a demonstration against bombings of markets believed carried out by the group. Shortly afterwards a bomb exploded in front of a regional media.
Some separatist groups in Kashmir launched intimidation campaigns against satellite television operators. In March some of them removed from their package three English-language channels, accused of putting out “obscene” programmes after militants members of armed groups al-Badr and al-Madina Regiment threatened to wreck their installations. Security forces were also responsible for abuses, including the unfair detention of the photographer Mohammad Maqbool Khokhar, known as Maqbool Sahil. Indian secret services in October stopped and interrogated Majid Hyderi, one of the editorial mangers of the newspaper Great Kashmir.
Danger in the Maoist regions
The regions plagued by Maoist guerrillas suffered the highest number of press freedom violations. A local human rights organisation FFDA (www.ffdaindia.in) released a report during the year on the situation in the Chhattisgarh state in central India, where security forces are clashing with Maoist rebels. Village militia or police has threatened several journalists there and the state government passed a law that punishes journalists with a three-year prison sentence for reporting on Maoist activities. The Chhattisgarh state authorities interrogated one of the authors of the FFDA report, Subash Mohapatra, in July.
Some journalists accused of sympathising with the Maoists are put under surveillance and sometimes arrested. Pittala Srisailam, editor of online television www.musitv.com, was placed in custody in Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh state in eastern India in December when he was about to interview a leader of the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-M) and accused of being a “messenger” for the Maoists. He was released on bail a few days later.