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India 5 July 2002

Tehelka.com’s offices searched

A court in Saharanpur (state of Uttar Pradesh) decided, on 4 July, to imprison Kumar Badal, a reporter with the on-line newspaper Tehelka.com. A hearing is to be held with Badal on 5 July in a poaching case. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) accused Badal of asking poachers to kill wild animals in a national park. The site’s managers have denounced this imprisonment, which, according to editor in chief Tarun Tejpal, is a new stage in the harassment of this web site. "Have you ever seen the CIB - the equivalent of the FBI in India — involved in a poaching case? (...) We have been hunted down and intimidated by every agency of the government of Atal Behari Vajpayee," said Tarun Tejpal.


Reporters Without Borders has protested about the search carried out at the head office of the web site Tehelka.com. "The fact that this search was conducted on the very same day that the web site’s editor was due to give evidence of capital importance in an enquiry into a corruption scandal shows that the Central Bureau of Investigation and the government are stepping up the pressure that has been exerted on the management of Tehelka.com for more than a year," says Robert Ménard, Secretary-General of the organisation. Reporters Without Borders has written to Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani calling for an end to the harassment to which Tehelka.com has been subjected.

According to information obtained by the organisation, about twenty officers from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) carried out a search of Tehelka.com’s head office in New Delhi on 26 June 2002. They also searched the home of one of the web site’s journalists, Kumar Badal. He is accused by the CBI of having paid poachers to kill and film two leopards apparently belonging to a protected species in the Saharanpur jungle (in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh). According to witnesses, however, the CBI has been unable to produce any documents relating to this case from among those seized during the search. On the other hand, officers apparently confiscated documents concerning the founding of the web site, notably e-mails received from Shankar Sharma, owner of First Global, who provided the initial financing for the web site and who is today in prison although no evidence has been produced against him.

image 150 x 190 (JPEG) In addition to this, the search was carried out just hours before the site’s editor-in-chief, Tarun Tejpal (photo), was due to give evidence before the Venkataswami Commission. This commission was set up by the government to investigate a corruption scandal uncovered by the web site in March 2001, which led to the resignations of Defence Minister Georges Fernandes and the president of the Hindu nationalist party, Bangaru Laxman. Mr Tejpal’s hearing, scheduled on the same day as that of the former president of the Samata party, Jaya Jaitly - who is suspected of acting as an intermediary between arms dealers and people close to the former Defence Minister - was in the event postponed. According to Kavin Gulati, the lawyer acting on behalf of the web site, the enquiry had reached a "crucial stage in the cross-examining" of the witnesses, leading him to conclude that the choice of the date for the search was "absolutely motivated". A CBI spokesman retorted that it was a "pure coincidence".

Right from its launch, Tehelka.com has specialised in investigative journalism, notably corruption cases. Since its pages have been updated with articles about the arms bribery scandal, the portal has been subject to harassment by government agencies and more recently by the tax department.




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