New Delhi, March 24, 2020 – Authorities in India must stop assaulting journalists and allow them to do their work freely and without restrictions, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in Hyderabad and Delhi assaulted at least four journalists yesterday, as India began a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, according to news reports and journalists who spoke to CPJ. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued a statement yesterday, reiterating that journalists are exempt from the lockdown and are free to do their work without any restriction.
“Journalists are exempted from the ongoing lockdown in India because they provide vital news and information about the coronvirus outbreak,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, in New York. “Indian police must cease harassing and attacking them, and authorities must investigate attacks against journalists and ensure that those responsible are held to account.”
At about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, police in New Delhi stopped Naveen Kumar, a reporter with Hindi news channel Aaj Tak, while he was on his way to his office and beat him, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and news reports.
Kumar told CPJ that police stopped his car at a checkpoint for allegedly violating the lockdown. He said he showed the officers his press card, but they refused to let him go and started beating him, and then pushed him inside a police van where three officers punched and hit him. The officers only released him when other vehicles started lining up near the barricade and others witnessed the attack, according to local news website Newslaundry.
At about 10:30 p.m. in Hyderabad, three police officers attacked Ravi Reddy, the Hyderabad bureau chief for The Hindu newspaper, when he asked police to allow him through a barricade on his way home from work, according to Reddy, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview, and Newslaundry.
When Reddy got out of his car to speak with the officers, one of them grabbed him by his neck and pushed him back into his car, and two others joined in and hit him, he said.
Police in Hyderabad also beat and insulted Mendu Srinivas, political bureau chief of Telugu-language daily Andhra Jyothy, and hit Mohammed Hussain, a reporter for the English news website Siasat, for alleged lockdown violations while they were returning from work, according to news reports and a tweet by Hussain.
Kumar told CPJ that he is drafting a complaint to the Delhi police commissioner, and believes he knows the identities of two of the officers who attacked him. The Delhi traffic police responded to a tweet by Kumar last night describing the attack, saying that the matter had been forwarded to the Delhi police for “necessary action.”
K. Virahat Ali, general secretary of Telangana Union of Working Journalists, an organization that defends journalists in Hyderabad and elsewhere in Telangana state, told CPJ that a delegation met the state director-general of police today, and said the director-general promised to take action against the officers who attacked journalists.
CPJ sent text messages to spokespeople of the Hyderabad and Delhi police departments seeking comment, but did not receive any replies.