A journalist photographs soldiers patrolling a street following riots in New Delhi, India, on February 27, 2020. At least a dozen journalists were attacked or harassed covering the riots. (AP/Altaf Qadri)
A journalist photographs soldiers patrolling a street following riots in New Delhi, India, on February 27, 2020. At least a dozen journalists were attacked or harassed covering the riots. (AP/Altaf Qadri)

Journalists harassed, attacked while covering Delhi riots

More than a dozen journalists were harassed or physically attacked while covering riots that broke out in northeast Delhi in late February 2020, according to news reports and journalists and their colleagues, who spoke to CPJ.

Demonstrations against a new citizenship law and national registry, which protesters say would discriminate against Muslim citizens, have been taking place in cities throughout India since December and were met with violence in Delhi on February 23 after a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party threatened a crackdown against the protesters, according to news reports. At least 53 people, a majority of whom were Muslims, were killed in riots over four days, according to reports.

On February 24, Tanushree Pandey, a reporter at the India Today news group, tweeted that 10 men surrounded and threatened her and her videographer, grabbing and shoving them, and told them to turn their camera off. Also that day, a group of five or six men with wooden sticks threatened to attack Parvina Purkayastha, a reporter at the Times Now broadcaster, and she “had to sit there and plead with them to not beat me and let me go,” she told local outlet The Print.

On February 25, Akash Napa, a reporter with Hindi news channel JK 24X7, was shot while covering the riots, according to news website The Wire.

“He has no clue from where the bullet came from,” his colleague Tabish Kumar told CPJ in a phone interview. Napa was treated in a government hospital in Delhi and was released, but the bullet was not removed from his body, Kumar said, adding, “He lost a lot of blood and the bullet is quite near to his spine, so the doctors want to give his body some rest before operating again.”

Local broadcaster NDTV reported that armed mobs assaulted three of its reporters and one camera operator while they were reporting in Delhi.

Reporter Arvind Gunesekar told CPJ via phone that a group of people hit and punched him and told him to delete footage from his camera in Delhi’s Meetnagar neighborhood. His colleague, NDTV reporter Saurabh Shukla, and CNNNews 18 reporter Runjhun Sharma intervened and broke up the attack, he said.

Shukla told NDTV that he was punched in the back, stomach, and leg, and that Gunesekar lost three teeth in the attack. Shukla said the reporters were not wearing anything with the NDTV logo, and said he believed they were targeted because they had microphones and cameras, and that the protesters were being aggressive toward anyone they believed to be part of the media.

Shukla told news website Newslaundry that he showed the mob an identification card, and an attacker said, “You’re from our own [Hindu] community. You should not be doing this. You should not be filming this.”

Gunesekar told CPJ that he had filed an official complaint with police along with photos of the attackers, but did not receive any response.

Assailants also hit NDTV reporter Mariyam Alavi on her back while she was reporting, and injured camera operator Sushil Rathee, according to a report from the broadcaster, which did not specify Rathee’s injuries.

Times of India photojournalist Anindhya Chattopadhyay, who reported from Delhi’s Maujpur neighborhood on February 25, wrote that a group of men stopped him and told him not to go to an area in the neighborhood to take photographs, saying “Hindus have woken up today” and he should not document their actions.

When he went a different route and started taking photos, men with bamboo sticks and rods surrounded him and tried to snatch his camera, and asked whether he was a Hindu or Muslim, he wrote.

“They threatened to take off my pants to confirm my religion. I then folded my hands and said I was just a lowly photographer. They then gave me a few threats, but let me go,” he wrote.

A group of people stopped Hindustan Times reporter Anvit Srivastava on February 25 near Delhi’s Karawal Nagar neighborhood and asked if he could prove he was Hindu, he told his newspaper in an interview. He wrote that the men, who were armed with rods, released him after checking his identity card.

According to that Hindustan Times report, a mob surrounded Soumya Pillai and Fareeha Ifthikar, two reporters at the paper, and two bikers chased them in the Bhajanpura neighborhood, forcing them to flee the area.

In a first person account, Indian Express reporter Shivnarayan Rajpurohit wrote about being accosted several times on February 26 as he tried to report on the violence in Karawal Nagar.

One man took his notebook and burned it, saying he could not report there, and a group of about 50 people surrounded him and demanded to examine his phone because they thought he had taken photos of the violence, he wrote. The group looked through his photos and videos, and despite not finding anything from that day, they deleted all the photos and videos on the phone before returning it, he wrote.

Also on February 26, another group of people armed with sticks and rods hit Rajpurohit on the legs and also forced him to hand over his phone after accusing him of taking photos, he said. Later that day, another group followed him and a man broke his glasses and slapped him for “reporting from a Hindu area,” checked his press card, demanded more proof that he was “a real Hindu,” and then ordered him to run for his life, he wrote.

Ismat Ara, a freelance reporter, wrote in Firstpost on February 26 that she tried to hide that she was a journalist while reporting in Maujpur, but that she was heckled by multiple groups people that had grown suspicious of her.

Shreya Chatterjee, freelance reporter, told The Print that a mob surrounded her and other reporters in Maujpur and blocked them from reporting.

Delhi Police Public Relation Officer M.S. Randhawa did not respond to a text message and phone call from CPJ seeking comment. Anil Mittal, a spokesperson for the Delhi police, told The Print that he did not have any information about attacks on journalists.

CPJ has documented a number of attacks against journalists covering the ongoing protests across the country since December 2019. CPJ has issued a safety advisory for journalists covering the protests.