Activists harass and attack photojournalist in Uttar Pradesh

Hindu activists in Vrindavan, in India’s Uttar Pradesh state, assaulted Sarvesh, a freelance photographer who goes only by one name, during a protest outside a meeting of atheists, on October 14, 2016.

Sarvesh, who was among local journalists covering the event, said she was attacked by Hindu activists who were protesting outside the venue where the meeting was being held. “I started taking their photos and they asked me, ‘Why are you doing this? Stop shooting,'” she told CPJ. “When I told them I’m just doing my job, they pushed me around.”

She said that about 15 people, led by Mridul Kant Shastri, a local priest, slapped and manhandled her, leaving her with minor injuries and damaging a camera lens. Sarvesh posted a video on her Facebook page which she says shows a group pushing her away, and Shastri slapping the photojournalist and screaming at her.

Shastri denied slapping the journalist and said he had “gently pushed her aside.” He told CPJ, “If I had manhandled her and beaten her up, the police was there. They could’ve taken action against me but they didn’t.” He said the video on her Facebook page was edited.

Swami Balendu, the meeting’s organizer, told The Hindu more than 50 members of Hindu activist groups had shouted slogans and broke glass panels outside the meeting venue.

Sarvesh said that she has not filed a formal complaint with police because of the slow pace of India’s justice system. She said she highlighted the incident in a letter to the Press Council of India, a body set up by Parliament to act as watchdog for press freedom and journalism ethics. Sarvesh said she also wrote to Mohit Gupta, a senior superintendent of the Uttar Pradesh police, to urge police to take action against her attackers, but by November 10 had not received a response.

CPJ tried contacting Gupta for comment but its calls went unanswered.