On May 26, 2019, Bengaluru police opened a criminal investigation into Vishweshwar Bhat, the editor-in-chief of privately owned Kannada-language newspaper Vishwavani, after a complaint was filed against him by a member of the state’s ruling Janata Dal (Secular) party, according to Indian news portal The News Minute.
On May 25, Vishwavani published a front-page report alleging a conflict within the family of H.D. Kumaraswamy, the president of Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka state and the state’s chief minister.
The following day, Pradeep Gowda, the party’s Karnataka state secretary, filed a criminal complaint against Bhat at Bengaluru’s Srirampura police station, alleging the journalist published a false report and defamed Kumaraswamy’s family, the English-language daily Indian Express reported.
Within an hour of receiving the complaint, the police filed a First Information Report, which CPJ has reviewed, thereby opening an investigation into the case. The report notes allegations against Bhat including defamation, forgery, cheating, criminal breach of trust, and intimidation.
CPJ emailed Gowda and Kumaraswamy for comment but did not receive a response.
“In my long career as a journalist, I have not seen anything like this,” Bhat told CPJ over the phone, saying that he had been threatened with defamation lawsuits before, but they were never formally investigated by the police. He said he was surprised the authorities accepted a complaint by someone not involved in the story.
CPJ texted Bengaluru North Deputy Police Commissioner N. Shashikumar, but did not receive a response.
In a similar case in August 2016, which CPJ covered at the time and which is still ongoing, a spokesperson for Assam’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party filed a criminal complaint against the English-language magazine Outlook and several of its staffers over a report concerning Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.