Area: 3,287,590 sq. km.
Languages: English, 15 official languages
Type of state: federal republic
Head of state: President Abdul Kalam
Head of government: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
India - 2003 Annual report
The nationalist government has proved intolerant toward journalists who investigate sensitive subjects such as corruption or the situation in Kashmir. The imprisonment of Kashmiri reporter Iftikhar Gilani and the harassment of the staff of the news web site Tehelka.com were evidence of the deterioration in the situation for press freedom in 2002.
The diversity of news is undeniable. India has more newspapers than any other country and the number of readers has increased by 17 million since 1999. The number of homes with cable or satellite TV went from 29 million in 1999 to 40 million in 2002. Six million people are connected to the Internet and the electronic media are exploding. But the nationalist government tried on several occasions to silence the most bothersome investigative journalists. Violence also came from non-governmental quarters: armed groups in Kashmir or the northeastern states, and extremist Hindu sects or parties in Gujarat state. The war in Kashmir and the religious riots in Gujarat state resulted in a significant increase in press freedom violations in 2002.
The country’s most important publications took issue with government attempts to "gag the press" in August This joint protest was prompted by the detention of journalist Aniruddha Bahal of Tehelka.com, an online news site that dug up a number of major stories, especially about corruption within the army. Bahal accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of being "more dangerous and devious" than the preceding Congress Party governments, and of using the spectre of conspiracies and Kafkaesque fabrications to wear Tehelka.com down. The president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia also accused the government in July of ruining India’s reputation for press freedom by harassing journalists.
In Kashmir, most journalists were caught between a rock and a hard place, with the government on one side and pro-independence activists on the other. Criticism of violence turned them into targets. The editor of a local daily who did not want to be identified said any report favourable to the government quickly led to a threat if not a grenade from the militants, while bowing to the pressure from the militants elicited retaliation from the government, above all cuts in advertising. Journalists faced similar dangers in the northeastern states because of the separatist movements there.
The government opened up the print media to foreign investment in 2002 by allowing up to 26 per cent to be internationally owned, ending a situation dating back to 1955 under which all newspapers and magazines had to be owned by Indians. Meanwhile, the spread of privately-owned TV and FM radio stations transformed the broadcast media landscape, dominated for nearly 70 years by the public TV service Doordarshan and the state-run All India Radio. In an unforeseen effect of the crisis with Pakistan, viewers spent much more time watching news programmes, at the expense of TV melodrama.
A law on access to information was adopted for the first time on 4 December. It aimed to end the secrecy cloaking government activity but significantly exempted information about defence, national security and many aspects of foreign policy. Nonetheless, the files of other ministries which had until then been inaccessible could now be made available to journalists.
Two journalists killed
Yambem Meghajit Singh, a journalist with a TV production company that makes the weekly news programme North East Vision, was tortured and killed by armed men on 13 October 2002 in Imphal, in the northeastern state of Manipur. His body was found covered with bruises and the hands bound. His family suspected that he was killed by one of the separatist groups in the area. The president of the Manipur Electronic Media Journalists’ Union told Reporters Without Borders that Singh, who was the union’s vice-president, had criticised separatist groups and local politicians on his programme and had also said he was going to investigate corruption in the state. The police did not carry out a proper investigation. Nothing came to light to suggest that Singh’s murder was unrelated to his work as a journalist.
Ram Chander Chaterpatti, 52, the editor of a Hindi-language newspaper called Poora Sach (The Whole Truth) in Sirsa (in the northwestern state of Haryana) died in a New Delhi hospital on 23 November from the injuries he sustained when he was gunned down outside his home in Sirsa on 24 October by a member of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect. The shooting was prompted by Chaterpatti’s reporting on sexual abuses and other illegal activities by members of the sect and its guru, Sant Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Ji. According to his family, Chaterpatti had been writing about the sect for some time, and had been threatened on several occasions. A sect representative said Chaterpatti was warned several times to stop his attacks against the sect because he was upsetting members. At least four persons including one of the sect’s directors were arrested after the shooting.
A third journalist was killed in 2002 but at the end of the year, it was still impossible to say whether or not his death was linked to his work. Paritosh Pandey, 32, a journalist with the local daily Jansatta Express, was watching TV at home in Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh) on 14 April when he was shot five times at close range by several individuals. One of the shots hit Pandey in the head, killing him instantly. His assailants made off. Believing the police were not taking the case seriously, a group of journalists went to police headquarters in Lucknow several hours later to demand a thorough investigation, and one was injured by a blow to the head from the butt of a police pistol in an ensuing melee. The governor, Vishnu Kant Shastri, promised that preliminary findings would be announced in three days. Pandey was a crime reporter, and several police sources said a gangland killing could not be ruled out. But a month later, police arrested Pandey’s wife and two friends, concluding that the motive was a family quarrel. Some journalists in Lucknow continued however to believe that organised crime was involved.
New information on a journalist killed before 2002
Four journalists imprisoned
Police in the southern state of Karnataka had the detention of P. Sivasubramanian of the Tamil-language magazine Nakkeeran extended in May. Sivasubramanian was arrested in November 2001 under the Arms Act for alleged complicity with a gang led by a bandit known as Veerappan. In 2002, police added a charge of support for the Tamil Tigers. Nakkeeran editor R. R. Gopal claimed that the real reason for Sivasubramanian’s arrest was a series of reports about abuses by special forces of the Karnataka state police, especially against women, during a manhunt for Veerappan.
A team of police and tax officials detained Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Ali Gilani - New Delhi correspondent of the Kashmir Times and two Pakistani newspapers, the Daily Times and The Nation - at his New Delhi home on 9 June. His father-in-law Syed Ali Shah Gilani, a Kashmiri separatist leader, was arrested the same day in Kashmir under the anti-terrorist law. Gilani (the journalist) was formally arrested on 10 June under the Official Secrets Act. Police accused him of having plans of the Indian military deployment in Kashmir on his laptop. Gilani said these documents appeared in a 1997 US State Department report that had been published by the Indian daily The Hindu and was available on the Internet. Dozens of journalists demonstrated in Kashmir for his release while Indian press associations called for a fair trial.
Gilani was transferred to Tehar prison near New Delhi on 22 June. His lawyer showed at a hearing that the military deployment files were freely available on the Internet. Police additionally accused him in July of violating article 292 of the criminal code by showing pornographic films at home. This new charge, filed without the court’s approval, was disputed by Judge Sangita Dhingra Sehgal on 18 July. The judge nonetheless refused to release Gilani on bail although he was being roughed up by fellow inmates, most of them criminals. Prison officials also denied him free access to the prison library. The Indian Press Council adopted a resolution on 29 July criticising his arbitrary detention. His provisional detention was extended eight times in July and August.
Police indicted him for espionage and pornography on 7 September, two days before the expiry of a 90-day deadline for his release. The indictment submitted to the court said he had sent secret documents to Pakistan and it referred to several articles of the Official Secrets Act and article 120-B of the criminal code (on criminal conspiracy), as well as article 292 on pornography. The judge said at a hearing that he had not had the time to consult the Internet site where the military deployment files were available. Gilani told Reporters Without Borders in September that he was " very depressed." A hearing on 9 October to consider a request for his release on bail was adjourned because the prosecutor did not turn up. The release request was denied on 13 November, although the police had just recognised that the so-called secret files were the same as the ones available on the Internet. Gilani for his part explained that he downloaded them from a publication posted by the Institute for Strategic Studies in Islamabad dating back to January 1996. An appeal filed by Gilani’s lawyer was denied on 16 November, as a result of which the release request went back to Judge Sehgal. The police tried various procedures to stall further consideration of the request.
Kumar Badal, 29, a journalist with the online news site Tehelka.com, was arrested on 3 July in New Delhi and taken to Saharanpur in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where a court jailed him on a 31 May accusation that he hired poachers to photograph the killing of leopards, a protected species, in the Saharanpur jungle. On his first day in prison, he was made to undress for a body search in front of guards and inmates, and was put in an insanitary wing meant for 60 inmates that was holding 250. In a letter to the press on 5 August announcing that he was going on a hunger strike, he protested his innocence and said his arrest was a reprisal for Tehelka.com’s campaign against corruption at the highest level. Tehelka.com described Badal’s arrest as a new stage in the politically-motivated police harassment of its staff. Requests by his lawyer for his release on bail were denied by the Uttar Pradesh court twice in August and again in October. He ended his hunger strike during August.
Mohammad Yusuf Dar, a journalist with the Srinagar bureau (in Kashmir) of the regional English-language Daily Excelsior, was beaten, insulted and detained for two hours on 10 June 2002 by police officers including Deputy Inspector Javed. According to the daily Kashmir Images, he was detained for no apparent reason as he was going home.
Anil Nambiar, a journalist with Surya TV, a local station, was arrested on 7 August in the southern state of Kerala because of a report implicating a local Congress party minister in an allegedly shady money transfer. The report was based on what appeared to be an intelligence agency document Nambiar received from a Congress Party leader. He was released on bail 24 hours later after being forced to reveal his source to the police. The authorities said the document was forged.
Aniruddha Bahal, the head of the investigative team of the news web site Tehelka.com, was arrested on 7 August as a result of complaint by an officer of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that Bahal " threatened" him. He was freed on bail the same day and his passport was confiscated.
Journalists physically attacked
The religious rioting in March and April 2002 in the western state of Gujarat gave rise to many acts of violence against the press.
About 20 journalists and media assistants were attacked by police in the Gujarati capital of Ahmedabad on 7 April while covering two peace meetings that were disrupted by members of Gujarat Yuva Morcha, the regional youth wing of the ruling BJP. When the incidents began, deputy police commissioner V. M. Parghi ordered Pranav Joshi, a cameraman with the privately-owned NDTV, to stop filming. When Joshi asked why, he was hit on the head and fell to the ground (and later had to receive intensive care in a hospital). Witnesses said the police then charged the journalists and threatened them with their firearms. Harsh Shah, a photographer with the Indian Express, and Harshyal Pandya, a reporter with the privately-owned ETV, were seriously injured in addition to Joshi. A Times of India photographer was hit in the ribs and kicked many times. Also injured were Dhimant Purohit, a correspondent for the 24-hour news channel Aaj Tak, Sanjeev Singh, a reporter with NDTV, freelance journalist Ashish Amin, photographer Amit Dave of the daily Jansatta, photographer Gautam Mehta of the daily Gujarat Samachar and Ketan Trivedi, a journalist with the same newspaper. The incident was brought to an end by the intervention of police commissioner Shivanand Jha.
Franco Ernesto Pagetti, a freelance photographer on assignment for the Italian magazine Espresso, was injured in Srinagar, the summer capital of the northwestern state of Jammu and Kashmir, on 26 March while covering a rally in support of a jailed separatist leader. A tear-gas grenade hit him when police charged the demonstrators using batons and tear gas. He was hospitalised and had to have 20 stitches to his head
B. Meera, a reporter with the state-owned TV network Doordarshan, and Shakeel Ahmed Wani, a cameraman with the same network, were slightly injured by Pakistani gunfire on 3 June while visiting the line of control that separates the Pakistani- and Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir.
Shahid Rashid, editor of the Urdu-language daily Province Reporter, was shot in the neck and arm on a street in Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) on 10 July by gunmen who fled. No group claimed responsibility, but police believed it was an attempt by armed separatists to kill a journalist viewed as sympathetic to the Indian government. Rashid is a former separatist who became a journalist after being released from prison in the 1990s.
Six men armed with sticks burst into the offices of the Tamil-language newspaper Dinamalar in Thanjavur in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on 30 July, smashed equipment and attacked employees who tried to stop them. Saravana Kumar, a subeditor, Raja, a reporter, and Murugan, the office manager, were badly hurt and had to be hospitalised. The assailants were suspected of belonging to a nationalist group in Tamil Nadu that defends the Dravidian people (the original inhabitants of southern India). Staff said the attack may have been prompted by a cartoon in the newspaper four days earlier portraying the group’s leader as a rat being chased out of a house by Tamil Nadu’s chief minister. The Committee to Protect Journalists said police made five arrests.
Muzamil Jaleel, bureau chief of The Indian Express in Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir), was attacked by several policemen as he approached the site of a traffic accident involving a senior police officer’s vehicle. Without checking his identity, police seized Jaleel and beat him with gun butts until he fell unconscious to the ground. They also threatened to kill him before letting him go. He was treated in hospital for head injuries. After he filed a complaint, the authorities said the policemen responsible would be punished.
Two young men entered the office of Ghulam Mohammad Sofi, a journalist with the Srinagar Times in Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) on 17 September and opened fire on him, hitting him in the right hand and hitting his bodyguard, who tried to intervene, in the right thigh. The assailants were not identified, but the newspaper was supporting the elections then underway in Kashmir which were rejected by many pro-independence or pro-Pakistan activists. A few hours before the attack, a Pakistani organisation, the United Jihad Council, had branded the election coverage of certain Kashmiri news media as pro-Indian and said the mujahideen were aware of the " black sheep" among journalists and would warn them to mend their ways.
Thugs abducted Mohainraj Lahade of the Hindi-language daily Loksatta from his office in Ahmednagar near the western city of Bombay on 22 October, injuring three colleagues who tried to intervene. They took him to the home of Anil Rathod, a representative in the local legislative assembly for the ultranationalist Hindu party Shiv Sena, where Rathod and four other Shiv Sena members beat him with sticks. The attack was prompted by a report by Lahade that a bank had filed suit against Rathod. The five Shiv Sena members were arrested the next day and released on bail.
Journalist Kuldip Nayar was physically attacked in Delhi on 23 November by activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an extremist Hindu movement, who criticised him for writing about the alleged summary execution by police of two individuals suspected of terrorism.
Protection being provided by police in the southern state of Tamil Nadu to R. R. Gopal, editor of the Tamil-language bi-weekly Nakkeeran, was withdrawn without explanation on 6 April 2002. Twelve days later, Gopal asked the high court in Madras to arrange police protection for himself, his journalists and their families, pointing out that his magazine had been targeted by a series of Tamil Nadu governments. The high court agreed, and asked the state government to arrange it. On 28 May, the Tamil Nadu police summoned Gopal for questioning about the kidnapping of cinema actor Rajkumar by a well-known bandit called Veerappan in 2000. A few days later, Gopal filed a request for release on bail with the supreme court in anticipation of the arrest he feared was imminent. The supreme court refused to consider his request, sending it to the Tamil Nadu high court.
Iboyama Laithangbam, a stringer for the daily The Hindu, and Ymnam Arun, a stringer for the Imphal-based monthly Eastern Panorama, were kidnapped on 8 October by members of the United Kuki Liberation Front as they were travelling to Moreh in the state of Manipur. The leaders of this armed secessionist group complained that they were not getting enough attention from the news media. The two journalists were set free two days later.
Ashok Singhal of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an extremist Hindu movement, branded The Hindu, The Times of India and The Indian Express as "traitors to the nation" at a press conference on 5 December and urged Indians to stop reading them. At the same time he praised the Hindi-language news media and said they reported the "true facts," unlike the English-language press. The movement’s treasurer berated a journalist from the daily Telegu during the news conference.
Pressure and obstruction
Half a dozen TV networks including Star News, Zee News and CNN were banned in the western state of Gujarat on 2 March 2002 on the orders of police commissioner P. C. Pandey, who instructed cable operators to suspend programming likely to fuel the troubles between Hindus and Muslims. The Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, had just accused the networks of covering the inter-communal strife in bloody and provocative manner.
The state-owned TV network Doordarshan suspending its broadcasting for a day on 30 April during the debate of an opposition censure motion about the religious violence in the state of Gujarat. Interior minister Pramod Bahajan said transmitting the debate live would have just exacerbated emotions. The opposition described the decision as an attack on democracy.
The Pioneer, a daily known for supporting the ruling BJP, ran a front-page article on 17 June attacking the US magazine Time for questioning the ability of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to run the country because of frail health. The Pioneer called the Time magazine piece "supercilious, patronising, white-supremacist, flippant and crassly ill-mannered." The next day, BJP activists burned copies of the magazine in Bombay. The Pioneer continued throughout the week to question the motives of Alex Perry, Time’s correspondent in New Delhi, and accused him of having several passports. The immigration department announced on 24 June that there were no restrictions on Perry’s movements but, "by courtesy," he should inform them each time he left the country. On 27 June, Time voiced its "regret" to the Indian foreign minister about the way parts of the story had been formulated.
On 26 June, a dozen officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) searched the New Delhi headquarters of the online news site Tehelka.com and the home of one of its journalists, Kumar Badal, accused of poaching (see above). However, the CBI was later unable to produce any files seized in the office raid that were to do with the poaching case. The CBI officers did however remove files relating to the news site’s creation, in particular, e-mail correspondence of Shankar Sharma, the person who provided the original funding for Tehelka.com. Sharma, who owns the company First Global, is currently imprisoned without having been tried. Furthermore, the search took place just a few hours before Tehelka.com editor in chief Tarun Tejpal was to appear before a special commission set up to look into a corruption scandal exposed by Tehelka.com in March 2001. The hearing ended up being postponed. Tehelka.com’s lawyer claimed that the CBI raid was timed to affect the commission’s enquiry, which had reached a crucial stage in the questioning of witnesses. A CBI spokesperson said it was "pure coincidence."
Soldiers searched the home and office of Altaf Hussein, the BBC’s stringer in Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) on 1 August. Hussein thought the raid came as result of an intercept of a conversation between militant separatists in which his telephone number was mentioned. The next day, a representative of the BBC’s South Asia office asked the army to investigate the circumstances of the raid.
The high court in Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh banned the news media on 20 August from publishing statements by either of the parties to the dispute between Muslims and Hindus over ownership of the Ayodhya site where Hindu nationalists destroyed a mosque in 2000 claiming it as the birthplace of Lord Rama. News media reproducing the views of either of the two communities or their lawyers would be prosecuted for contempt of court and receive prison sentences, the judges warned.
Al-Badr, a Kashmiri separatist group based in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on the state radio and television building in the centre of Srinagar (Jammu and Kashmir) on 28 November. The attack caused damage but no one was hurt.
During the trial of Maneesh Chhibber of the daily Hindustan Times for contempt of court, before the Punjab high court in mid-December, judges ordered another journalist with the same newspaper, Manish Tiwari, to reveal the source of a report he had written stating that police had searched a judge’s home. He refused to reveal his source, and thereby risked being prosecuted for contempt of court himself.
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