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India 22 December 2003

Magazine publisher released on bail

Magazine publisher RR Gopal, of the Tamil-language publication Nakkheeran, was freed on bail on 20 December on the order of the Tamil Nadu High Court. Gopal, who has been held in Chennai Central prison for more than eight months, remains accused of conspiracy "to separate Tamil Nadu from the Indian State" and possession of a firearm. He was charged on 11 April 2003 under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts (POTA). The journalist described his release as a "first blow" against this "autocratic law".

Editor of Nakkheeran harassed in detention

R.R.Gopal, editor of the Tamil-language magazine Nakkheeran, has been harassed by police since he was arrested on 11 April, according to his lawyers. One of his colleagues, A. Kamaraj, said Gopal had been interrogated in only his underwear for several hours at the police station in Chintadripet after his arrest. He was then taken to Satyamangalam Forest, where the notorious bandit Veerappan is said to be hiding, so as to fabricate evidence of his ties with the bandit. They forced him to pose for a police photographer and threatened to kill him if he did not. Kamaraj said all this confirmed fears that the editor’s life was in danger.

When he was formally charged by a court in Chennai, Gopal told the judge he was afraid police would kill him when they tried to make him say that several prominent figures, including former Tamil Nadu state chief minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi, were involved in corruption in the hunt for Veerappan. He said he was also interrogated about the disappearance of a police informer they said had been captured by the Veerappan gang.

04.17.2003 Editor charged under anti-terrorism act

R.R. Gopal, editor of the Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, was sent to prison in Poonnamalle, near Chennai, after being formally charged by Judge L.Rajendran under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) of conspiring to promote the secession of Tamil Nadu state and possessing a firearm. It was the first time a journalist had been charged under the controversial Act. Police said they found the weapon on him, along with leaflets put out by a Tamil separtist movement. His colleagues and family said the charges, which were repeated to the media by the state’s chief minister, were false. Gopal’s father said he feared for his son’s life.

04.14.2003 Editor of Nakkheeran arrested in Tamil Nadu

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today denounced the arrest of R. R. Gopal, editor of the biweekly Tamil magazine Nakkheeran, for supposed "illegal possession of firearms" and "sedition," calling it an attempt by police to hide their inability to find Veerapan, one of India’s most notorious bandits.

It said Gopal and other journalists in the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu were being made into scapegoats and called on the state’s chief minister, Selvi J. Jayalalithaa, to free him at once and drop the charges against him.

His arrest on 11 April was the latest twist in a long-standing effort to intimidate Gopal and his journalists for their reporting on Veerappan and his gang, who security forces have been trying to capture for several years. Nakkheeran journalist Siva Subramanian has been in prison in neighbouring Karnataka state since November 2001 accused of being in league with the bandits.

Plainclothes police arrested Gopal in the town of Chennai on 11 April as he was leaving his office. They said they found a gun on him as well as leaflets put out by the banned separatist Tamil Nadu Liberation Army. He was interrogated throughout the night, dozens of journalists were barred from the police building and police refused to speak to them. The next day, a court ordered him to be held at the town’s main prison until 25 April.

At the same time, two opposition MPs were arrested for allegedly stealing with Gopal a ransom put together in 2000 to win the release of a film star Veerappan had kidnapped. The accusations were recently repeated in a book by a former Tamil Nadu police chief.

Gopal, who is being prosecuted in half a dozen cases, has been frequently interrogated by police. A warrant for his arrest was issued in February in connected with his supposed involvement in two killings attributed to Veerappan. Last month, the Chennai High Court granted him conditional bail. Nakkheeran notably exposed scandals during chief minister Jayalalithaa’s first government in the early 1990s.

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