Indian police arrest reporter who exposed assault

New York, November 9, 2012–An Indian television journalist who documented a large-scale attack on young women and reported the episode to police in Karnataka state has been charged with participating in the assault, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists considers the arrest to be retaliatory and calls on authorities to drop the criminal charges and release the reporter immediately.

Police in Mangalore, a port city in the southwestern state, arrested Naveen Soorinje late Wednesday on more than a dozen charges, including rioting and assault, according to local and international news reports.

Soorinje had been tipped off that a large group of men were chasing, beating, and groping teenaged women at a local birthday party in July, the reports said. Other journalists were similarly tipped off. The assailants, described as Hindu hard-liners, were apparently angered that the women were associating with men at the party, according to reports.

On arrival, Soorinje reported the attack to police and filmed it for the Kannada-language news channel Kasturi TV, according to New Delhi-based news magazine Tehelka. The 43 other individuals who were charged were identified on the basis of Soorinje’s footage, Tehelka reported.

Soorinje has denied taking part in the attack and said he believes the charges are retaliatory. His news report accused police of responding slowly to his repeated calls reporting the assault, and of “chatting” with the assailants once they did arrive, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties said in a statement. Human rights activists have broadly accused police in Karnataka of allowing attacks against women as a supposed form of “moral policing,” the BBC reported. Karnataka is led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

“We call on Karnataka Home Minister R. Ashoka to ensure that these unjustified charges against Naveen Soorinje are dropped at once,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Imprisoning a journalist for a crime he documented and reported to police reflects shamefully on the local administration and law enforcement.”

At least two other journalists are behind bars in India for investigating official collusion in violent attacks on civilians, according to CPJ research. Sudhir Dhawale, a Mumbai-based activist and journalist, was detained for criticizing a state-supported anti-terrorist militia in Chhattisgarh state. Freelancer Lingaram Kodopi also exposed police violence in Chhattisgarh, according to CPJ research