New Delhi, November 20, 2019 -- Police in India’s Telangana state should immediately drop their allegations against journalist Nellutla Venugopal and stop harassing journalists for their political leanings, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On November 13, Telangana police submitted documents to the Lal Bahadur Nagar Metropolitan Magistrate, which CPJ reviewed, accusing Venugopal, editor of Telugu monthly Veekshanam, of being part of a Maoist conspiracy against the state.
Venugopal, who spoke to CPJ via phone, said he has not been arrested or formally charged. If the magistrate accepts the police allegations, it could issue a warrant for his arrest any day, he said.
Venugopal could face a fine and two to seven years in prison under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Telangana Public Security Act if charged and convicted of being part of a conspiracy.
Venugopal told CPJ he had been a member of a group that authorities allege is affiliated with a Maoist party, the Revolutionary Writers Association, but left it in 2009. The association was previously banned but is now legally permitted, according to Indian news website The Wire.
“Accusing a journalist of conspiracy is a threat to press freedom and shows the government is intolerant of criticism,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, in New York. “Police should immediately drop their allegations against Nellutla Venugopal and stop threatening journalists with legal action.”
Venugopal filed a case in the Telangana High Court, which has jurisdiction over the metropolitan magistrate, to have the allegations against him dismissed, he said.
Venugopal frequently writes critical pieces about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Telangana Chief Minister Kalvakuntla Chandrashekhar Rao, according to The Wire.
In a statement, which CPJ reviewed, Veekshanam’s editorial team said Venugopal had repeatedly disassociated himself from the Revolutionary Writers Association and said that “though he holds progressive, democratic and left views, that does not mean that he has to be a member of any organisation.”
Venugopal is also accredited by the state government as a journalist and writes a regular column in the newspaper Nava Telangana, he told CPJ.
CPJ found that though Venugopal’s name was listed on the court documents, there was no mention of any evidence against him.
CPJ texted the Telangana director general of police for comment but did not receive a response.
In October, Telangana police arrested journalist Ravi Prakash after he refused to withdraw two interviews on alleged corruption in the state, as CPJ reported at the time.