New York, March 25, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release on bail of Naveen Soorinje, a television reporter jailed for more than four months after documenting a large-scale assault on a group of young women in Karnataka state. CPJ considers the pending criminal charges to be baseless and retaliatory, and calls on authorities to drop them immediately.
“It is about time Naveen Soorinje was released from prison. It is an outrage that he was ever jailed at all for reporting on violence against women, an issue that has put India in the news worldwide in recent months” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “Authorities should withdraw all charges against him immediately.”
Soorinje, 28, a reporter for the Kannada-language news channel Kasturi Newz 24, walked free on Saturday following the Karnataka High Court’s decision on March 18 to grant him bail. “I feel relieved now,” he told CPJ by phone after being freed on a surety bond of 500,000 rupees (US$9,200).
The case stems from a July 2012 episode in which Soorinje, having received a tip, filmed a large group of men chasing, beating, and groping teenaged women at a local birthday party. The assailants, members of the hard-line Hindu Jagran Vedike group, were apparently angered that the women were associating with men at the party, according to reports. The young men were also assaulted, the footage shows. Soorinje said he had tried to report the attack to police upon arriving, but his calls went unanswered.
Police eventually arrested more than 40 people in the attack, but they also filed numerous charges against Soorinje that accused him of participating in the attacks. Soorinje was arrested on November 7.
During recent court proceedings, one victim testified that Soorinje had had been falsely accused by police to cover their own inefficiency, according to local reports. The victim also testified that Soorinje had tried to protect them from the attackers, reports said. The court noted that video footage of the attack did not show Soorinje taking part in the attack, news reports said.
A lower court in Mangalore had denied Soorinje’s request for bail on November 27. The Karnataka High Court had also denied him bail on December 26.