New Delhi, August 1, 2018--The Punjab state government must ensure a thorough and credible investigation into an attack on News18 Punjab journalists and bring the perpetrators to justice, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 29, Sandeep Kumar and Neeraj Bali, two reporters from the Punjabi-language televisions station News18 Punjabi, were attacked in the village of Amir Khas near the town of Jalalabad while reporting on alleged illegal sand mining in the area, according to one of the journalists and the Indian news website Firstpost.
Speaking to CPJ, Kumar said that unknown men began beating him and his colleague on their heads with sticks and the butt of a gun and broke their equipment, including cameras and microphones, as they were attempting to film the mines and conduct interviews. Kumar did not specify how many cameras and microphones were damaged.
"When I started bleeding and fainted [...] a colleague [Bali] called up the local police, these men started running away," Kumar said.
The two were taken to a local hospital and then transferred to a larger hospital in a neighboring town, Faridkot, according to Kumar. Kumar was injured on the right side and center of his head; Bali was injured on the right side only, according to Kumar who provided CPJ with photos of the injuries.
The reporters' two fixers, who were with them at the sand mines and whose names CPJ is withholding for safety reasons, were also attacked but sustained no injuries, according to Kumar.
Punjab police registered a First Information Report (FIR), which is the first legal step towards full investigation, in Jalalabad's Amir Khas police station, according to a Tweet from Punjab's Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who has given contradictory statements about the attack since it took place.
"Authorities in Punjab need to recognize that violence against journalists is a crime that should be investigated and prosecuted," said Steven Butler, Asia program coordinator in Washington, D.C. "It's extremely unhelpful for the chief minister to begin questioning the motives of reporters who were investigating a possible crime."
On July 29, Singh issued a statement on Twitter condemning the attack and instructing the police to investigate the matter, then a day later at a press conference, Singh claimed the mine allotment in Jalalabad was legal and questioned the reporters' intentions. "The case may be registered but ....you should not also go and intimidate the people," he replied when asked about the case.
Speaking to CPJ, News18 Senior Editor Jyoti Kamal, who is also head of News18 for the states of Punjab, Himachal, and Haryana, said the company is standing by the reporters and paid for their hospital visits.
CPJ has documented previous attacks on journalists reporting on alleged illegal mining in different parts of India. In May 2017, freelance journalist Rama Reddy was attacked in his home in the Eluru district of Andhra Pradesh state for his reports on alleged illegal sand mining. In June 2015, another freelance reporter, Sandeep Kothari, was burnt to death in Maharashtra after being abducted from Madhya Pradesh. He too was reporting on alleged illegal sand mining in the region.