India: Wave of attacks on journalists by party activists in West Bengal
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the many physical attacks on journalists covering last month’s process of filing candidate nominations for panchayat (village council) elections in the state of West Bengal, in eastern India, and calls on the authorities to ensure that journalists are protected during the coming elections.
Around ten journalists were attacked by party activists while covering the nomination process on 23 April, the last day for filing nominations. Many others were attacked early in the month by supporters of Trinamool Congress (TMC), West Bengal’s ruling party, and by supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP, India’s ruling party.
“It is unacceptable that journalists are the targets of violence and intimidation by political activists,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Party leaders have an overriding duty to contain violence by their supporters against journalists, whose work is essential for a democracy to function properly.
“Those responsible for these attacks must be punished and, in the run-up to the panchayat elections, we urge West Bengal’s authorities to guarantee the safety of reporters so that they are able to do their work without been obstructed by clashes between political factions.”
Seven of the reporters and photographers attacked in various parts of West Bengal on 23 April worked for the newspaper Anandabazar Patrika. Suspected TMC activists clubbed reporter Sebabrata Mukherjee in the town of Murshidabad, injuring his ear. The photographers Gautam Pramanik, Safiullah Islam and Kaushik Saha were also beaten up in Murshidabad.
The photographer Sabyasachi Islam was beaten up in Ramphurhat. Suspected BJP supporters chased and attacked Suchandra Dey, the newspaper’s correspondent in Katwa. As police looked on without intervening, a group of men grabbed reporter Aryabhatta Khan in Kolkata, the state capital, and dragged him away to a nearby slum neighbourhood where they beat him and took his phone.
Pragya Saha, a woman reporter for the Aakash Bangla TV channel, was also held for more than an hour by activists. Many complaints were filed about these attacks but no arrest was made, fuelling a climate of generalized impunity.
Two weeks before that, on 9 April, Biplab Mondal, a freelance reporter on assignment for the Times of India newspaper, was attacked by TMC members in Kolkata after he refused to delete the photos he had taken outside a building where nominations were being filed. He said they threatened him, beat him and stripped him of his clothes.
While taking photos with his phone in the same location on 9 April, Manas Chattopadhyay, a reporter for the ETV Bharat television channel, was surrounded by party activists who took his phone from him by force and beat him over the head. The police then told him to leave.
India is ranked 138th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.