In India, freelancer charged with antistate activities

New York, September 21, 2011–An Indian journalist who covered police violence in the state of Chhattisgarh was recently arrested on antistate charges that human rights groups say are retaliatory, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police said they arrested Lingaram Kodopi on September 10 in a public market in Dantewada district on charges of accepting a bribe from a representative of a steel company wanting to operate in a Maoist insurgent-controlled area, news reports said. One of Kodopi’s relatives, who was also accused of accepting bribes, told The Times of India that Kodopi was detained in his home, not at the market, and that the police were trying to falsely implicate them. Both she and the journalist deny the charges against them, news reports said.

Local human rights activists and journalists say authorities want to prevent Kodopi, 25, from publicizing the role of police in recent violence in the state. In April, the journalist documented houses in Dantewada district being destroyed during an anti-Maoist police operation in three villages and “recorded on video precise narrations of police atrocities,” Tehelka magazine reported. Himanshu Kumar, a local human rights activist, told the Indian Express that Kodopi has “proof of government involvement in burning down three villages.”  

The journalist was charged with antistate activities under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, and the Indian penal code, according to the New Delhi-based Tehelka news magazine. The total penalty he faces remains unclear.

“Chhattisgarh police should substantiate the charges against Lingaram Kodopi,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “It is cause for concern when a freelance journalist documenting the state’s human rights abuses is hit with antistate charges.”

Kodopi had fled the state in 2010 to study journalism and work as a freelancer in New Delhi after he was harassed by police, the Indian Express reported. While he was there, police said he was a senior Maoist commander and accused him of attacking a politician in Chhattisgarh, the Indian Express also said. The journalist denied any links to the Maoists and said that police had targeted him since he refused to work for them under a program to recruit tribal youths to defeat the insurgents, Tehelka reported.  

Maoists have led an insurgency in the central tribal areas of India for more than four decades. Journalists are frequently targeted by both Maoists and state forces in the states touched by the conflict, CPJ research shows. In December 2010, three journalists in Chhattisgarh were threatened, apparently by a state-supported vigilante group fighting the insurgents, while daily Nai Dunia journalist Umesh Rajput was fatally shot there after being threatened for his coverage of a public health story in January. Police said Maoist insurgents had made the threats to obscure their motive in killing him.