New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), one of the most influential international non-profit organizations formed in 1981, has strongly condemned the recent attack at the residence of scroll.in journalist Malini Subramaniam. Text of the statement:
Indian authorities should immediately investigate the harassment of and threats against journalist Malini Subramaniam, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
Assailants on Monday pelted Subramaniam’s home in Bastar, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, with rocks, shattering the rear window of her car, according to news reports. Subramaniam, who has reported on human rights abuses and the conflict between Maoist groups and the state in Chhattisgarh for the independent English-language news website Scroll.in, told CPJ that a group of about 20 men demonstrated outside her house on Sunday evening, accusing her of supporting Maoist groups and chanting, “Death to Malini Subramaniam.”
“Chhattisgarh police must send a firm message that vigilante attacks and mob violence against any citizen, any journalist, are unacceptable,” said CPJ Asia Program Senior Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “Authorities must fully and immediately investigate this attack on Malini Subramaniam, make sure the perpetrators face justice, and preserve the safety of all journalists.”
In an interview with scroll.in, Subramaniam said she recognized two of the men from the group, and that they belonged to major political parties in the state. She also said she recognized men from the crowd as members of the anti-Maoist group Samajik Ekta Manch who had previously visited her to discuss her coverage of the decades-old, low-intensity conflict between Maoist rebels and the government.
The group of men urged her neighbors to join them in pelting her home with stones, alleging that Subramaniam had been supplying arms to Maoists and that she could plant explosives in neighboring houses, according to reports.
In the last month, police officials have come to Subramaniam’s home several times, once late at night, to interrogate her about her reporting, she told CPJ. “There is pressure to cover their version of the story,” she said.
Subramaniam told CPJ that while police allowed her to file a complaint, they initially refused to file a First Information Report, a necessary step to set in motion a police investigation. On Wednesday, police finally did register a First Information Report, but Subramaniam told CPJ that it was weak because it did not name any individual and because the charges related only to trespassing and damage to her property.
The online directory for Chhattisgarh police was unavailable at time of documentation. When CPJ reached the superintendent of police in Bastar district, R.N. Dash, at a phone number provided by local journalists, he declined to comment and declined to pass CPJ on to someone else for comment.
Reporting from the region poses serious challenges: According to CPJ research, police often pressure, harass, or abuse journalists in an effort to silence critical reporting or to compel them to serve as informants. Meanwhile Maoists have attacked journalists they accuse of being informants for police, according to CPJ research. In 2015, Chhattisgarh police arrested two journalists–Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav–on unsubstantiated allegations that they were aligned with Maoists. Both Nag and Yadav remain jailed.