New Delhi, May 22, 2017–Police officials should identify and discipline the officers who assaulted dozens of journalists in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata today, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Journalists at the scene said police assaulted dozens of reporters covering a protest, then forcibly cleared a demonstration the journalists staged to protest their treatment.
Photographer Tanmoy Bhaduri reported that police assaulted more than 50 journalists covering a protest march to the West Bengal state secretariat organized by the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
“Around 1 p.m., the police started beating up people near the Kolkata Press Club,” Sukanta Mukherjee, a reporter with the ETV news channel, told CPJ. “They weren’t distinguishing between journalists and agitators. They were just hitting people. So we decided to peacefully protest this police action at 2:30 p.m. by just standing and asking ‘why did you beat us up?’ Just then, one senior police officer ordered the force to assault us with batons.”
“A TV journalist on Mayo Road was doing a live phone-in and walking around the area,” Monideepa Banerjee, an editor at the NDTV news channel, told CPJ. “Some police officers who were sitting there overheard him and didn’t like what he said, so they had an altercation with him. They pushed him around, and slapped him…At this point, other journalists noticed what was going on and decided to block the road–peacefully. There wasn’t much going on over there, and suddenly, out of the blue, the cops beat them up with batons.”
The English-language newspaper DNA reported that “many” journalists were hospitalized for injuries from police batons and tear gas. Photojournalist Tanmoy Bhaduri told CPJ he was unconscious for 10 minutes from tear gas inhalation.
“Beating journalists protesting their earlier unprovoked beating at the hands of police takes disregard for press freedom to new levels,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said from Washington, D.C. “The officer who gave the order to beat reporters in Kolkata should be disciplined, and police should be trained to protect, not assault journalists.”
Supratim Sarkar, a joint commissioner of the Kolkata Police, told CPJ by text message that “any incident of assault on journalists is undesirable and condemnable. An inquiry has been ordered to identify the police personnel who have allegedly manhandled journalists. Necessary departmental action will be initiated on identifying.”
Mukherjee, the ETV journalist, told CPJ that this was the second incident in a week in which police assaulted journalists in Kolkata. On May 16, a group of photojournalists were attacked while trying to cover a building fire in the city’s Park Street neighborhood, he said.
“Himadri Roy, my cameraman, and I were there covering the incident when a police officer pushed us aside. As a result, one of our microphones broke,” Mukherjee told CPJ. “A few minutes later, a man dressed in a purple T-shirt–whom we identified as the driver of a police van–also started pushing us. He said, ‘What I’ve done is a good thing.'”