Immediately address continuing threats to journalists and human rights defenders in Bastar, Chhattisgarh

MaliniChhattisgarh500x300Chhattisgarh government must address intimidation of journalists in Bastar, says Amnesty International India in a statement. Text:

On 7 February, a group of over 20 people gathered outside the home of Malini Subramaniam, a journalist who has written extensively on human rights violations in the state. They urged her neighbours to stone her house and chanted slogans suggesting that she was an agent for Maoist armed groups.

On the morning of 8 February, stones were thrown at the journalist’s house, shattering her car’s rear windshield. Later that day, an anti-Maoist group released a public statement accusing her of presenting a distorted picture of Bastar and promoting Maoist ideology. 

“This attack is another indicator of the increasingly hostile atmosphere in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Chhattisgarh,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, Campaigner at Amnesty International India.

“The government of Chhattisgarh must not just sit on its hands and watch journalists being threatened and harassed. They must act on their promise to protect journalists from being attacked simply for doing their work.”

Speaking to Amnesty International India, Malini Subramaniam said, “This is not an attack on me as a person but as a journalist reporting incidents on the ground, something that they don’t want”. The journalist worked earlier at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Chhattisgarh, which was asked to suspend operations in 2013 by state authorities.

According to Malini Subramaniam’s lawyer, the police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR) about the attack on 8 February, and said that they would need the approval of a senior official, who was traveling. The police eventually registered an FIR on 9 February, in the journalist’s absence, against unnamed persons for the offences of house-trespass and ‘mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees’.

“Authorities in Chhattisgarh need to take this incident seriously, and immediately conduct a swift, independent and thorough investigation. Police inaction will only send the message that these attacks can be carried out with impunity,” said Makepeace Sitlhou.

Background

Journalists and human rights defenders in Bastar have been at the receiving end of human rights abuses by both security forces and Maoist armed groups in connection with their work.

Local journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag have been in judicial custody since July and September 2015, respectively. Santosh Yadav, who has faced repeated police harassment in the past, is suspected of rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder, as well as “associating with a terrorist organization” and “supporting and aiding terrorist groups” under laws including the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, both of which violate international human rights law and standards.

Following the arrests, journalists in Chhattisgarh have been protesting against what they say is growing police harassment and a deteriorating work environment, especially in Bastar district. In December 2015, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh met protesting journalists and reportedly acknowledged the challenges they faced. He also proposed to set up a committee to look into issues faced by journalists.

In July 2015, a senior police official allegedly called for the ‘social exclusion’ of Amnesty International Prisoners of Conscience Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, after they accused the police of carrying out an extrajudicial execution.

Journalists in Chhattisgarh have been targeted by both security forces and Maoist armed groups in the past. In December 2013, journalist Sai Reddy was killed allegedly by Maoist armed groups who suspected him of working with the police. Another journalist, Nemi Chand Jain, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Sukma district in February 2013. In 2011, two other journalists, Umesh Rajput and Sushil Pathak, were also killed in Chhattisgarh.

***

Text of the statement by Network of Women in Media, India, on attack on the residence of journalist Malini Subramaniam at Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh:

We, members of the Network of Women in Media, India, strongly condemn the shocking attack on the residence of Malini Subramaniam, a journalist based in Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh and correspondent for the news site Scroll.In, and the continuous attempts to intimidate and threaten her into silence.

According to reports in the news site, Scroll.In,  a group of around 20 persons had come to her residence at about 6p.m. on February 7,  and shouted slogans attacking her, including ‘Naxali Samarthak Bastar Chodo. Malini Subramaniam Mordabad’ (Naxal supporter, leave Bastar. Death to Malini Subramaniam). The mob apparently tried to instigate neighbours to attack her and said that she was a Naxal supporter. Early on February 8, morning, at around 2.30a.m.,  a motorcycle slowed down her home and threw stones at her residence.

Ms Subramaniam has identified two of the men in the mob – Manish Parakh and Sampat Jha. Both had visited her residence on January 10 last month and were members to the Samajik Ekta Manch, a Jagdalpur based forum formed to counter Naxalism in Bastar and support the work of the police in the area. Parakh is the secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Yuva Morcha and that Sampat Jha is a member of the Congress in Jagdalpur.

The online news site, Scroll, has documented the level of intimidation faced by Ms Subramaniam and has pointed out that, over the last year, she has been writing consistently on issues of adivasis and of displacement, mass sexual violence as well as other human rights violations. It is these reports that the Manch appears to have targeted as being ‘pro-naxal’ and anti-police. Subsequent to the Jan 10 ‘visit’ by members of this Manch, Ms Subramaniam also received late night enquiries from the local police and had to face a number of questions and submit documents giving proof of her identity. The news-site had tried to take up the instances of intimidation with Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh but received no response.

It is clear that the local police, which is tasked with protecting its citizens, has chosen to look the other way while the mob demonstrated outside her residence. It has made no attempt to register an FIR or investigate the incident, much less ensure the safety and protection of MsSubramaniam and her daughter.

Already, journalists across the country have lodged strong protests over the arrest and continued incarceration of two journalists from Chhattisgarh, SantoshYadav and Somaru Nag. Now, in this incident, the indifference of the police and the state administration as well as the Chief Minister is a dangerous portent for freedom of expression and for the safety and security of media persons.

We demand that Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh immediately announce a full and thorough investigation into the incident and take steps to ensure the safety of Ms Subramaniam. His failure to do so can only be taken as an indication of his tacit support for such heinous and coercive tactics.

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