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India 14 January 2003

Tehelka.com journalist freed on bail

Kumar Badal, a reporter with the news website Tehelka.com, was freed on bail on 13 January after six months in prison, by order of the supreme court in New Delhi. His release was welcomed by Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal, who noted that the site had been victimised for the past two years. Bail was set at 50,000 rupees (about 1,000 euros). At the last minute, police tried to foil the court order, claiming their inquiries were not yet complete. Badal is still however under house arrest in New Delhi and must report to the Central Bureau of investigation on the first Monday of each month. He is also banned from the northern district of Saharanpur, where the original complaint against him was filed


An Uttar Pradesh judge turned down on August 21 the request for release on bail filed by the lawyer acting for journalist Kumar Badal, who has decided to continue his hunger strike. Meanwhile, the authorities have confiscated the passport of Aniruddha Bahal, another journalist with Tehelka.com.


14.07.2002

As journalist Kumar Badal of the investigative web site Tehelka.com began a hunger strike to protest against his continuing detention after more than one month, Reporters Without Borders today joined those in India who are speaking out against the government’s policies of intimidating the investigative press.

In a letter to Interior Minister Lal Krishna Advani, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard recalled that he had already written to him on 27 June to protest against a search of Tehelka.com’s offices. "The arrest of two of the site’s journalists in the past month constitutes a further stage in the harassment of this independent press site. We ask you to have this intimidation brought to an end and to drop the proceedings against these journalists", the letter said.

As well as requesting Badal’s release, the letter also recalled the case of the Kashmir Times’ bureau chief in New Delhi, Iftikhar Gilani, who has been detained since 9 June for having allegedly violated the country’s Official Secrets Act.

Badal, held since 3 July, began his hunger strike on 5 August. In a letter published on the site, he wrote that, "The only reason I am suffering in this manner is because I am a journalist from Tehelka.com, which took up the cudgels to expose the corruption in high places in the governance of the day". He said he would continue his hunger strike "no matter what" until a judicial decision was taken in his case. "The jail authorities have already started to persuade me to drop my idea. But you cannot keep a journalist quiet. Even in a jail."

Aged 29 and the father of a four-month-old baby, Badal is accused by the Criminal Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of having hired poachers to kill leopards belonging to a protected species in the Saharanpur jungle in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh so that it could be recorded on film. He has claimed his innocence from the outset.

Since his arrest, he has been subjected to various forms of mistreatment. On the first day, he was allegedly obliged to undress for a body search in front of a dozen prison guards and dozens of inmates, most of them laughing as they watched. He is being held in a prison wing intended to house 60 inmates which currently holds more than 250 in health-threatening conditions.

Various factors suggest that the CBI was asked by the government to make life difficult for Tehelka.com, which exposed a major corruption scandal within the government in 2001. The other Tehelka.com journalist to have been detained in the past month was Aniruddha Bahal, who heads its investigative team. He was arrested on 7 August as a result of a complaint filed by a CBI officer who accused him of having "threatened" him. Bahal was released on bail the same day.




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