Police officers are seen in Haryana, India, on December 12, 2020. Police and non-state actors recently attacked and threatened journalists throughout India. (Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

Journalists in India face attacks, legal action, and threats

In September and October 2020, lists circulating online allegedly identifying journalists as “anti-Hindu” or as “Indian agents” named dozens of local members of the press, police opened investigations into at least two reporters and one media executive, and authorities attacked at least one journalist during the course of his reporting, according to news reports and journalists who spoke with CPJ.

In late September, the anonymous blog Stop Hindu Hate listed a number of alleged “Hindu haters,” including Raqib Hameed Naik, news director of the online outlet TwoCircles.net, and at least four other journalists, according to CPJ’s review of the website and Naik, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.

Naik said that the blog painted him as an enemy of the country and the Hindu religion, and that he feared for his life, especially after journalist Gauri Lankesh was killed after being labeled a “Hindu hater” in 2017.

Naik tweeted that he filed a complaint to the Delhi police commissioner about the blog. CPJ texted the Delhi police for comment on Naik’s case, but did not receive any response. CPJ emailed Stop Hindu Hate at the address listed on its website, but did not receive any response.

On September 29, Karnataka police stopped the broadcast of Kannada-language news channel Power TV after the outlet aired a series of news stories alleging corruption by the family members of a local politician, according to local news reports.

Police raided Power TV’s offices after opening an investigation into the channel’s managing director, Rakesh Shetty, for alleged extortion and forgery; while the police search warrant only authorized officers to collect archival material, they also disconnected the outlet’s broadcasting equipment and took it off the air, according to those reports.

The news channel resumed operation on October 7, according to those reports. On November 20, the Karnataka High Court ruled that Shetty should not be arrested as the investigation proceeds, according to The Hindu.

A spokesperson for the Karnataka police did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

On October 3, Jammu and Kashmir police initiated an investigation into the anonymous Kashmir Fight blog after it listed 39 Kashmiri journalists as alleged “Indian agents,” according to news reports.

That post has since been deleted, however other posts criticizing Umer Asif, a freelance photojournalist and at least two other local journalists, calling them “stooges” of the police, were later published and reviewed by CPJ. Asif spoke with CPJ on the phone and said he fears for his life.

In June 2018,  the same blog had listed Rising Kashmir Editor Shujaat Bukhari and accused him of “betraying the Kashmir struggle” eleven days before he was killed, according to Hindustan Times and The Print.

When CPJ attempted to view Kashmir Fight from India on December 17, it showed a notice stating that it had been blocked by an order of the Indian Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

On October 16, in Delhi, police beat Ahan Penkar, a journalist with The Caravan newsmagazine, and detained him for about three hours while he was covering a protest at the Model Town police station over authorities’ alleged mishandling of a rape and murder case, according to news reports. According to The Caravan, police forcefully carried Penkar inside the station and beat him, injuring his face, shoulder, back, and ankle.

In a written complaint to the Delhi Police Commissioner, which CPJ reviewed, Penkar said that he was detained even after he showed his press card to the office and was kicked and slapped by Assistant Commissioner of Police Ajay Kumar. Penkar also said in his complaint that the police forced him to unlock his phone and deleted all the photographs and videos he had recorded while reporting.

On October 17, the office of Deputy Commissioner of Police for North West Delhi, claimed on Twitter that Penkar was “seen protesting amongst the crowd” and was violating various provisions of the law invoked due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that he claimed to be a journalist. A spokesperson for Delhi police did not responded to CPJ’s text message requesting comment on Penkar’s case.

On October 21, the Uttar Pradesh police opened an investigation into Suresh Bahadur Singh, a journalist with Hindi-language newspaper Jansandesh Times, under the Official Secrets Act, according to news reports and Singh, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.

Singh said the legal action taken by the police regarded a copy of a confidential government document he received anonymously in February 2019. The letter by a senior police officer contained a safety assessment of a former regional lawmaker and cited a need to raise his security, Singh added.

Unable to verify its authenticity and having failed to reach the former lawmaker, Singh told CPJ that he did not publish any story concerning the document. Ten days later, Singh met the lawmaker at a social gathering and, at the lawmaker’s request, shared a copy of the letter with him, he said.

Worried about his safety, the former lawmaker notified the Allahabad High Court, which instructed police to institute an enquiry into how the confidential letter was leaked, according to a court judgment reviewed by CPJ.

As of early December 2020, police are investigating Singh under the Official Secrets Act, according to a copy of a police complaint reviewed by CPJ. If convicted of accessing secret government documents, Singh could face up to 14 years imprisonment under that law.

A spokesperson for Uttar Pradesh police has not responded to CPJ’s text message requesting comment.

On October 28, National Investigation Agency agents raided the office of the Greater Kashmir newspaper and the home of Agence France-Presse Kashmir correspondent Parvaiz Bukhari in Srinagar, according to various news reports.

According to The Associated Press, the investigators confiscated telephones, laptops and storage devices from Bukhari and claimed that the raid was part of an investigation into “non-profit groups and charitable trusts” that were collecting funds for “carrying out secessionist and separatist activities.”

A former employee of Greater Kashmir told CPJ on the condition of anonymity that the investigation into the newspaper was related to a trust setup in 2014 to help victims of floods in the region.

CPJ messaged a National Investigation Agency spokesperson and Bukhari for comment, but did not receive any replies.