New York, July 12, 2013--Indian authorities' failure to proceed expeditiously in the prosecution of a freelance journalist is a miscarriage of justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The journalist, who has been held for almost two years without bail on anti-state charges, had exposed police wrongdoing in central Chhattisgarh state.
"Every day authorities hold Lingaram Kodopi in prison, they are exacting punishment without providing fair and effective due process," said CPJ Asia program coordinator Bob Dietz. "The charges against him smack of retaliation and we call for his immediate release."
The Chhattisgarh High Court on Monday denied bail to Kodopi, who has been imprisoned since September 2011, saying his crime was "of a heinous nature," news reports said. Kodopi's next hearing is scheduled for August, according to a Siddhartha Mitra, a New York-based human rights activist familiar with Kodopi's case. A bail plea had been brought to the high court last month after efforts failed in the lower court.
Authorities accused Kodopi of being a Maoist associate after he allegedly facilitated a transfer of funds between representatives of a steel company and Maoists in Chhattisgarh, where security forces and Maoists are in conflict, according to news reports. The journalist has been charged with criminal conspiracy, sedition, and waging war against the state, according to the New Delhi-based Tehelka magazine. Kodopi had also been accused of carrying out an attack against a local politician, but he has been acquitted in that case, reports said.
Kodopi has denied all of the accusations and said the cases have been filed in retaliation for his documentation of police violence in the area, according to news reports. In April 2011, Kodopi had documented the destruction of houses during an anti-Maoist police operation in three Dantewada villages and "recorded on video precise narrations of police atrocities," Tehelka reported. At a public forum in Delhi in April 2010, Kodopi spoke about police officers taking part in sexual assaults. He also described his own experience being tortured by police. In August 2009, he was held in police custody without legal basis for 40 days, according to Human Rights Watch. During that time he was beaten and pressured to join Indian law enforcement's fight against the Maoist insurgency, according to Tehelka. Kodopi refused and, fearing retribution, fled the state to seek journalism training in New Delhi, Tehelka reported.
Tehelka recorded a local police official admitting that Kodopi had been framed, but the journalist remains in prison. Local human rights activists have cast doubts on the fairness of his ongoing trial and have called for an independent probe, news reports said.
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