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India 10 February 2004

Tamil Nadu police arrest Nakkheeran reporter

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) protested today against the arrest of a reporter working for the Tamil-language biweekly Nakkheeran, in what is a renewed attempt by the authorities in the south-eastern state of Tamil Nadu to implicate the staff of this independent newspaper in a murder allegedly committed by the well-known local bandit Veerappan.

The reporter, who is known only by the name Subramaniyam, was abducted by Tamil Nadu police in Thiruvananthapuram (the capital of the neighbouring state of Kerala) on 6 February while he was in a car with his wife and son. The police handcuffed and blindfolded him, and beat him.

His family immediately reported the kidnapping and gave the licence number of the car being used by the Tamil Nadu police. They were stopped at a Kerala police checkpoint, but were able to continue thanks to the intervention of a Tamil Nadu officer. Kerala police officers complained of "illegal practices" by their colleagues.

The Tamil Nadu police told Subramaniyam he was accused of involvement in a murder blamed on the bandit known as Veerappan, who has been wanted by the authorities for years. The police apparently tapped Subramaniyam phone calls and were able to locate him in Kerala by following his wife.

He was brought before a judge in Erode, in the west of Tamil Nadu, on 7 February. The judge ordered him placed in custody until 20 February while police continue their investigation. He was put in Coimbatore prison.

The police said a warrant was issued for Subramaniyam’s arrest more than a year ago. His wife and colleagues fear that he could be tortured to make him confess to being linked to the bandit Veerappan or to make him sign a statement implicating Nakkheeran editor, R. R. Gopal.

The authorities have been harassing Gopal and his staff for two years and Reporters Without Borders is concerned that Subramaniyam’s arrest may herald a new offensive. The organisation called on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Selvi J. Jayalalithaa to have Subramaniyam released immediately and the charges dropped.

Gopal has a half dozen cases pending against him and he was detained for several months last year for alleged implication in two murders attributed to Veerappan. Nakkheeran is well-known for revealing scandals implicating Jayalalithaa’s first administration in the early 1990s.

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