Police officers are seen in Mumbai, India, on March 23, 2020. Several journalists were recently detained or attacked amid the coronavirus lockdown in India. (AP/Rafiq Maqbool)
Police officers are seen in Mumbai, India, on March 23, 2020. Several journalists were recently detained or attacked amid the coronavirus lockdown in India. (AP/Rafiq Maqbool)

Journalists detained, assaulted in India during COVID-19 lockdown

On April 11, 2020, police in the Bandipora district of Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir state arrested Mushtaq Ganaie, a reporter with the English-language privately held daily Kashmir Observer, on allegations of obstructing police, violating the COVID-19 lockdown, and spreading the virus, according to Ganaie, who spoke to CPJ via phone, and a report by his employer.

Ganaie told CPJ that police stopped his vehicle while he was reporting on the lockdown in the region, and refused to let him go despite showing his press ID.

Police detained him for two days and hit him while in custody, injuring his arms and body, Ganaie said. He was released on bail on April 13 while authorities investigate the allegations against him, according to news website The Kashmirwalla.

Ganaie told CPJ police returned his phone to him two days after his release, and returned his car after six days.

Also on April 11, a mob in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district attacked Balasaheb Navgire, a freelance reporter, after he reported on a family that was quarantined due to COVID-19, according to news reports. The police filed a case against the assailants, but no arrests have been made, according to The Hindu newspaper.

According to the Telegraph newspaper, the mob comprised 12 attackers, including members of the quarantined family who were upset that Navgire identified them in his report.

CPJ could not find contact information for Navgire or determine the extent of his injuries.

On April 13, a police officer in the Handwara district in north Jammu and Kashmir state threatened the father of Gowhar Ali Wani, a freelance journalist, whose name was not released, telling him that his son would be arrested “if he continues to film and photograph” in the region, according to Qazi Zaid, editor of Free Press Kashmir, a local press freedom group, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.

The following day, police came to Wani’s home and attacked him, pulling his clothes and slapping him, and then detained Wani’s father, according to news website The Kashmirwalla and a tweet by Wani.

According to Zaid, Wani’s father was detained for one day and was then released without charge.

On April 15, Mumbai police arrested Rahul Kulkarni, a reporter with Marathi-language privately held news channel ABP Majha, for alleged “rumor-mongering,” according to the Indian Express. The arrest stemmed from Kulkarni’s reporting that railways may open new trains for migrants stuck in large cities, according to that report.

Speaking to news website Newslaundry, Kulkarni claimed that he based his report on an official notice issued by the railways. Railway officials later claimed that the notice was not meant for public dissemination, according to reports.

Authorities released Kulkarni on bail on April 16 after police accused him of violating penal code sections for negligence and acts likely to spread disease, intent to cause panic, disobedience of a public order, and abetting an offense by the public, as well violating the Epidemic Diseases Act, according to Newslaundry; if charged and convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.

Kulkarni and his news outlet have stood by his reporting, according to the Indian Express.

On April 22, two men attacked Arnab Goswami, editor of privately held news broadcaster Republic TV, and his wife, Samyabrata Ray, while they were driving home from his office in Mumbai, according to a video posted on Republic TV’s Twitter account and news reports.

According to Goswami, who was seen in Republic TV’s video on Twitter, men threw black ink at his car and were apprehended by his security guards. The Wire reported that the attackers have been arrested.

Goswami said in his broadcast that the attackers belonged to the opposition Congress party and were harassing him over his criticism of the party. Goswami has also been the subject of multiple police complaints filed by Congress party workers after he held a panel discussion questioning opposition leader and Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s alleged silence on the lynching of two Hindu monks, according to news reports.

On April 25, the Supreme Court stopped police from taking any coercive action against Goswami for three weeks, according to news website Firstpost. According to the National Herald news website, the complaints accused Goswami of insult, vilification of religion or race, defamation, incitement, and other offenses.

CPJ texted the police departments of Mumbai, Jammu and Kashmir, and Maharashtra, but did not receive any responses. CPJ texted the Congress party for comment but did not immediately receive any response.

CPJ’s safety advisory for journalists covering the coronavirus outbreak is available in English and South Asian languages including Marathi, Tamil, and Hindi.