October 20, 2020

India: Magazine reporter beaten by police inside Delhi police station

Police personnel stand guard in India gate to prevent a demonstration linked to the gang-raped and murder of a 19-year-old woman victim, in New Delhi on September 30, 2020. At least six policemen assaulted journalist Ahan Penkar because he was covering a demonstration related to another case of a raped and murdered teenager (photo: Sajjad Hussain / AFP).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that New Delhi police arrested and beat a reporter covering a protest about the death of a teenage girl, and deleted his photos and videos. Appropriate sanctions are needed so that this kind of behaviour stops, RSF said.

Ahan Penkar, a reporter for The Caravan magazine, was treated this way by police in the north Delhi suburb of Model Town on the afternoon of 16 October despite repeatedly identifying himself as a journalist and showing them his press card.


Penkar arrived at the Model Town police station at around 2:45 pm to cover a demonstration outside by a small crowd protesting the refusal of the police to register a complaint about a 17-year-old girl from the Dalit caste (formerly known as Untouchables) who was allegedly raped and murdered by her higher-caste employer.


Penkar was interviewing members of the girl’s family when policemen began arresting demonstrators, and Model Town assistant commissioner of police Ajay Kumar ordered them to arrest Penkar as well. After being taken into the station, Penkar was beaten by Kumar and five of his men despite constantly repeating that he was there to cover the event as a reporter.


“Kicked my back”


Kumar slapped him in the face and repeatedly kicked him when he was on the ground. “I fell completely to the ground, and then he tried to pin me down, and kicked my back and shoulders,” Penkar said in a report published by The Caravan.


After seizing his ID cards, press card and phone, the police went to great lengths to delete all the photos and videos he had shot of the protest. Penkar was finally released at around 7 pm. and went to a hospital to be examined.


“This behaviour by New Delhi police, who deliberately disregarded Ahan Penkar’s status as a journalist, is absolutely intolerable,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The police involved in beating him must be punished.


“The targeted mistreatment of this journalist is all the more unacceptable because this is not the first time that the police in the Indian capital have violently targeted journalists. Such conduct is incompatible with the rule of law and Indian democracy, and must cease at once.”


Mob attack


Last August, New Delhi police displayed culpable passivity when three other journalists from The CaravanShahid Tantray, Prabhjit Singh and a woman who prefers not to be named – were subjected to an hour and a half of violence by a large crowd of supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party. The police deleted the reporters’ photos and videos on this occasion as well.


During a wave of intercommunal violence last February, RSF called on the New Delhi police to protect journalists and thereby allow them to cover events instead of allowing BJP supporters to target them. According to RSF’s tally, at least 18 journalists were harassed and attacked while police failed to intervene.


India is ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.