US should address press freedom during talks with India

June 7, 2012

The Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520

Via facsimile: +1 (202) 647-2283

Dear Secretary Clinton:

We are writing in advance of the third India-U.S. Strategic Dialogue coming up on June 13, which you will co-chair in Washington, D.C., with Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. India is host to a vital and thriving news media, but CPJ has documented several violations against Indian journalists that are undermining the country’s tradition of a free press.

In preparation for next week’s dialogue, Robert Blake, assistant secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, praised U.S.-Indian cooperation on “issues related to counterterrorism and homeland security.” But CPJ has noted with concern that Indian authorities have in fact used harsh counterterrorism measures to retaliate against domestic journalists who document state-sponsored human rights violations against civilians carried out as part of India’s war on insurgent Maoist groups.

Police arrested Sudhir Dhawale, who documented human rights violations for the Marathi-language monthly Vidrohi, on January 2, 2011, and charged him with sedition and involvement with a terrorist group under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, according to news reports. He was later charged with waging war against the state, which carries a potential death penalty under the Indian penal code. Dhawale’s supporters said he was detained because he was a critic of a state-supported, anti-Maoist militia active in Chhattisgarh. The journalist continues to await trial while in prison.

Lingaram Kodopi, a freelance journalist, was arrested on September 10, 2011, on anti-state charges that human rights groups have called retaliatory. Kodopi was accused of accepting a bribe from a representative of a steel company wanting to operate in a Maoist insurgent-controlled area, but the journalist has denied the charge and said he was targeted by police. He has been charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, and the Indian penal code, according to the New Delhi-based Tehelka magazine. Tehelka even recorded a local police official admitting that Kodopi had been framed, but the journalist remains in prison.

Besides the risk of being jailed on anti-state charges, Indian journalists face other challenges to press freedom as well. With six unsolved journalist murders since 2002, India ranked 12th on CPJ’s 2012 Impunity Index, which calculates the number of unsolved killings of journalists as a percentage of each country’s population. Yet India’s leaders have lacked the political will to investigate and prosecute attacks against the press. In March, India led opposition to a U.N. journalist safety plan that included anti-impunity efforts.

We hope that during the strategic dialogue, you and members of your staff will raise the plight of imprisoned journalists and impunity for attacks against the press in India.

Thank you for your attention to these matters.

Joel Simon
Executive Director


Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh
Indian External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake
Ambassador of India to the United States, Nirupama Rao
United States Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell
Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh