By Sumit Galhotra/CPJ Asia Program Senior Research Associate.
Attacks this week against journalists covering a high-profile sedition case have heightened concerns about the state of press freedom in India. CPJ has reported frequently on journalists there coming under attack from police, criminals,politicians, and others. Now lawyers have to be added to the list.
On Monday, lawyers threatened, manhandled, and beat several journalists inside Patiala House court complex in Delhi as they attempted to cover a court hearing of Jawaharlal Nehru University student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar, whose case has sparked a fierce national debate on free speech. The journalists said they recognized some of their assailants as lawyers, and that others wore the black robes of legal professionals.
Journalists belonging to NDTV, the Indian Express, Economic Times, IBN7, the Indo-Asian News Service, and regional outlets were targeted. Many gave accounts of being attacked or witnessing colleagues being beaten. Some of those accounts can be viewed here, here, and here.
Among those who reported being attacked are:
- Manu Shankar, a reporter for the regional outlet Kairali TV. Shankar was hit on the head by an object and taken to a hospital, his colleague told news reports.
- Amit Pandey, a senior journalist for the privately owned broadcaster IBN7, toldthe presslawyers slapped him, tore his clothes off, and broke his phone after he told them he was a journalist. He said that lawyers threatened to “break the bones after the phones.”
- Sonal Mehrotra, from the privately owned broadcaster NDTV, who said lawyers warned her to leave the court complex, telling her, “We don’t require you here, leave or you will be harmed.” Mehrotra told a reportershe feared for her life after 15 men ganged up on her and a fellow journalist. Five police officers allegedly witnessed the exchange and did not intervene, according to reports.
- Alok Singh, gave an account to his paper, the Indian Express, in which he described how he was surrounded by at least 10 men who took his phone and slapped and punched him around the face and head, while he yelled that he was a journalist.
Scores of journalists marched from the Press Club of India’s Delhi office to the Indian Supreme Court on Tuesday demanding action against the lawyers involved and calling for Delhi Police Commissioner Bhim Sain Bassi to be fired, according to reports. The march included veteran journalists Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Sardesai, Siddharth Varadarajan, Ravish Kumar, Suhasini Haidar, Sagarika Ghose.
Dutt, who works for NDTV and has covered terrorist attacks and war in India, toldlocal news outlets, “I can understand [journalists coming under harm] if you’re going to cover a war or cover a riot or go to a conflict zone.” She added it was “completely unacceptable” for lawyers to grab reporters and beat them. Dutt criticized Delhi police for their apparent failure to protect the journalists at the court complex and failure to apprehend the attackers, despite photographs and video footage of the assaults.
On Wednesday, there were reports of more journalists being beaten by lawyers outside the same court house, including Tariq Anwar, a photojournalist for news website Firstpost who was allegedly beaten by lawyers who were chanting nationalist slogans, according to reports.
No arrests have yet been made, according to reports. Police Commissioner Bassi publicly denied that police failed to intervene in the attacks against journalists. The Supreme Court has ordered Bassi to personally ensure the safety and security of those at the court complex, according to reports.