India withdraws charges against journalist Naveen Soorinje

Although Naveen Soorinje is still in jail, there may be some good news. Today, 86 days after his arrest, the state cabinet in Karnataka decided to withdraw charges against him.

Police arrested Soorinje on November 7 in connection with his coverage of an attack on young women and men by a right-wing Hindu extremist group at a party in July. More than a dozen charges were filed against the journalist, including assault, rioting with a deadly weapon, and using criminal force on women with the intention of outraging their modesty, according to local and international news reports. His footage led to the arrest of dozens of assailants involved in the attack.

News that the charges against Soorinje were being withdrawn was confirmed to CPJ by Soorinje’s lawyer, Lawrence Liang. Soorinje will be released once the public prosecutor files a motion with a trial court judge in Mangalore, who will have to approve the cabinet decision, Sudipto Mondal, a journalist for The Hindu who has been closely following the case, told CPJ. “The judiciary in Mangalore is not free of the influence of the Hindu right-wing, but we are keeping our fingers crossed,” Mondal said.

A few weeks ago, Home Minister R. Ashok provided broad assurances that authorities would drop the charges against Soorinje. In today’s cabinet meeting, the home minister said Soorinje’s case had turned into an international embarrassment, Mondal told CPJ.

Soorinje’s lawyers and colleagues are optimistic, but the journalist remains in prison for the time being. His release, if it happens, will mark a significant victory for press freedom.