New Delhi, June 4, 2019 — Indian authorities should swiftly investigate the attack on journalist Pratap Patra and hold those responsible to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 30, in Odisha state, six unidentified individuals wielding a machete and other sharp objects attacked Patra, a reporter with local news daily Samaja, cutting his head, chest, and hands, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ. He was taken to a local hospital following the attack and released on June 3, according to those reports.
Patra told CPJ that he believes he was targeted because of an investigative article he published on May 8 alleging that a local sand mining operator was working illegally. The company was fined 1.6 million rupees ($23,000) following the publication of the article, he said.
“Covering the environment can be dangerous in India, especially reporting on illegal mining and extraction of natural resources. It will remain so unless authorities rigorously uphold journalists’ rights to report freely,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director, in New York. “Police in Odisha must find all those behind the attack on Pratap Patra and bring them to justice.”
On May 8, shortly after the article’s publication, the sand mining operator mentioned in the piece called Patra and threatened him with revenge, but Patra told CPJ he did not take the threat seriously. When Patra heard that representatives of the mining group were inquiring about his movements and whereabouts, however, he went to the police on May 29, but was told to return later when the inspector in charge was present, he told CPJ.
Before he could return to the station, Patra was attacked the next day around 9 p.m., when men stopped him while he was on his way to his home in Odisha’s Balasore district, he said.
CPJ called and texted Police Inspector Prabhu Kalyan Acharya for comment but did not receive a response. Acharya told Indian daily The Hindustan Times that the police have opened an investigation into the attack. Police told Patra that they arrested three suspects on June 2, the journalist told CPJ.
CPJ has previously documented a number of cases in India involving attacks on journalists reporting on illegal sand mining. In March 2018, journalist Sandeep Sharma was murdered in Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind district after reporting on alleged police corruption and illegal sand mining. In August 2018, two reporters were attacked in Punjab while reporting on sand mining near the town of Jalalabad.