Indian journalist jailed in Assam state for alleged links to militants

New York, September 8, 2014–An Indian journalist who has been held in police custody for six days was denied bail in court today and faces possible anti-state charges over accusations that he promoted an outlawed separatist group after interviewing its commander, according to news reports.

Jaikhlong Brahma, a correspondent for the Guwahati-based privately owned news channel News Live, was arrested in Kokrajhar on September 2, and held by police in the northeast Indian state of Assam for questioning, according to news reports. Police accused Brahma of having links with a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) separatist group, and seized the journalist’s laptop and two cell phones from his home, according to reports.

Police accused Brahma of “providing information to the extremists about the movement of security forces,” and “voluntarily [doing] the work of promoting and knowingly facilitating the violent acts of this banned organization…which compromises the national security and integrity,” according to news reports.

Formal charges have not been filed, and a court ordered Brahma to be held for a further eight days, according to reports.

“We are concerned by the allegations leveled against journalist Jaikhlong Brahma, and call on officials to publicly disclose the evidence used to hold him in custody, ” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Interviewing a separatist commander is not a crime. Detaining a journalist for doing so is pure intimidation.”

Accusations of compromising national security are a common method used by Indian authorities to silence local journalists. CPJ research shows that several journalists including Aseem Trivedi, Sudhir Dhawale, and Lingaram Kodopi have been arrested on anti-state charges in recent years. All three were eventually freed.

An arrest warrant has also been issued for Rinoy Basumatary, a reporter at the privately owned NewsTime TV who, along with Brahma and other local journalists, interviewed the NDFB commander in June, according to Geetartha Pathak, chairman of the Journalists’ Union of Assam, and news reports. Police raided Basumatary’s home in connection with the case, according to The Hoot, a South Asia media watchdog website. The reporter was not home at the time.

Brahma has denied the allegations against him. Local media organizations and journalists called for his immediate release, reports said. The Journalists’ Union of Assam said the allegations against Brahma were false, and came as a result of tension between local journalists and police.

The Kokrajhar Press Club told news outlets that local journalists have been under increased police scrutiny since publishing critical coverage of the police including their response time to incidents of violence, and the state’s general approach to dealing with militant groups. In late August, journalists in Kokrajhar criticized police handling of a murder of a student by NDFB militants, and called into question security in the state, according to news accounts. The militants claimed responsibility for the killing to members of the press.

Dozens of people have been killed in Kokrajhar in recent years and hundreds of thousands have been displaced amid ongoing violence between various ethnic groups in the region, including one supported by the NDFB, according to news accounts.