In India, imprisoned journalist’s plea for help

The New Delhi-based Tehelka magazine published an open letter by imprisoned freelance journalist Lingaram Kodopi on Monday. Kodopi, one of the two journalists CPJ documented in prison in India on December 1, 2011, has been held without charge since September 2011 as a suspected associate of insurgent Maoists in Chhattisgarh. His supporters believe he faces harassment for documenting police violence in the region.

Kodopi’s letter records his version of his time in custody, where he says police forced him to sign blank papers and threatened him with beatings and electric shocks. “I am an independent journalist, but my independence has been taken away in jail,” he wrote in the letter.

Kodopi’s aunt, Soni Sori, was also jailed for allegedly helping her nephew accept bribes from a steel company to operate in a Maoist-controlled area–supposed proof of their connection with the banned insurgent group. Tehelka magazine, which has been running a campaign to free Soni Sori, has published a recording of a local constable admitting that police framed the pair on this charge. Yet she, too, remains in prison, where she says she suffered a brutal sexual attack by local officers, Tehelka reported. India’s Supreme Court has ordered a medical examination of her injuries by July 10, according to Tehelka.

Regardless of the outcome of that investigation, there is too much reason to fear that police will continue to harass Kodopi and his aunt to conceal their own wrongdoing. In April 2011, after studying journalism in Delhi, Kodopi collected “extensive eyewitness accounts, recorded first-hand on camera,” documenting a police-led anti-Maoist raid on three villages that left three civilians dead and three women sexually assaulted, according to Tehelka. The magazine believes this was the trigger for the arrests.

Lingaram Kodopi and Soni Sori should be released immediately. But Kodopi fears police will try to frame him again, and fears for his life both in and out of prison. “Anything can happen to me for writing this letter,” he writes.