New Delhi, March 14, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on authorities in northeast India to investigate the beating of at least two journalists by police who broke up a student rally on March 10.
Emmy Lawbei, a reporter for the TV station News18-Assam North East, and Catherine Sangi, a correspondent for the state-run radio station All India Radio, in the state of Assam, told CPJ that police hit them with heavy bamboo canes known as lathis while they were covering a rally by a student organization in Bairabi, a town in the district of Kolasib, on the Assam border with Mizoram state.
In an interview with The Quint, Lawbei said that police continued to beat her even after she identified herself as a journalist. She was taken to the hospital with bruising to her shoulder and back, according to News 18. Sangi also identified herself as a journalist to police but told CPJ she too was beaten on the back of the thighs and buttocks with lathis.
“Assam police should investigate these assaults on reporters and take appropriate action against the officers responsible,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney in New York. “Journalists should be free to cover unrest and protests without fear of attack or retaliation from police.”
Police surrounded the students and journalists at around 11 a.m., shortly after the student body, Mizo Zirlai Pawl, passed a resolution to rebuild a resting house or shelter for farmers that police and the forest department had demolished, according to a report in Scroll.
Mukesh Sahay, director-general of police in Assam, told CPJ police were dispersing a crowd deemed by district authorities as an “unlawful assembly.” “Now we don’t know who in that crowd was a journalist and who wasn’t,” he said.
Lawbei told CPJ that during the charge the journalists went to the side and started to record it on their cell phones. “There was a heated exchange between students and the police which led to a lathi [baton] charge by the police. I also heard gunshots being fired, ran towards our car and, at that point, was hit on my arms, butt, and shoulders. We were no danger to them and yet they beat us up.”
Sangi told CPJ, “The injuries will heal after some time but this incident has left us shaken,” she added.