Charges against Indian video journalist must be dropped

New York, May 25, 2012–Local authorities in India must drop the criminal charges filed against video journalist Mukesh Rajak, an apparent attempt to prevent him from reporting on local government expenditures, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Rajak is a freelance journalist trained by Video Volunteers, an organization based in Goa and New York that trains journalists in impoverished areas to expose underreported stories. His stories are broadcast on Video Volunteers’ community news service, IndiaUnheard, and have aired on “Speak Out India,” a weekly program on cable news channel News X, and Indian news and entertainment portal, in the two years he has been a journalist, Siddharth Pillai, the communications manager of Video Volunteers, told CPJ in an email.

The journalist was investigating expenditures from the implementation of a job-creation act in the city of Madhupur, in the state of Jharkhand, according to his account published on Video Volunteers’ website. On May 8, he filed a Right to Information request, asking about funds allocated by Vandana Kumari, an assistant hired by the state to implement the act in the district, Pillai told CPJ. Four days later, Kumari accused Rajak of bribery and threatening her in her home, charges that the journalist and other witnesses denied, according to Pillai and Rajak’s personal account.

Rajak and Video Volunteers believe the charges are intended to force the journalist to drop his investigation. A caller identifying himself as Kumari’s brother called Rajak on May 12 and threatened his family, Pillai told CPJ. A third party told the journalist that Kumari would withdraw the charges against him if he agreed not to publicize the findings of the Right to Information request, Pillai said. The journalist’s bail hearing is scheduled for Monday in a local court, his supporters told CPJ.

Deoghar District Superintendent of Police Subodh Prasad terminated the call when CPJ reached him on his mobile phone on Friday. Kumari’s phone was switched off.

“We are very concerned that Mukesh Rajak is facing retaliation for his reporting,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We urge authorities in Madhupur to drop the charges against Rajak, to allow him unfettered access to public documents, and to refrain from interfering in his work.”

Gregory Walsh, a cameraman and editor, and Laurel Gwizdak, a producer and editor, both journalists for the Washington, D.C.-based Stone Soup Films, documented Rajak at work in his village in February 2012. “A lot of mainstream media and electronic media is in the city, but they don’t come to the village,” Rajak says in the film.

“I enjoy being a journalist because it allows me to be a voice for my people,” Rajak’s Video Volunteers profile reads. “Before joining VV, I had never held a camera but now it is the main tool in my work.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been modified to reflect that Laurel Gwizdak co-edited the video of Rajak, and that Jharkhand is a state in India, not a district.