The three journalists with The Caravan news website – assistant photo editor Shahid Tantray, freelance contributor Prabhjit Singh and a woman reporter who is not being identified for her protection – were subjected to an hour and a half of hell, during which they were insulted, trapped, threatened and beaten by about 50 individuals.
The journalists had gone to cover the occupation of a mosque in Ghonda district by Hindu nationalists who had hung saffron flags – the symbol of Hindutva, the ideology underpinning Hindu nationalism – in the street outside the previous week. After identifying themselves as journalists, they found themselves surrounded and attacked by a mob egged on by a man who identified himself as “general secretary” of a branch of the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s ruling Hindu nationalist party.
Police refuse to register FIR
“They strangled me with the strap of my camera while others hit me,” said Tantray, whose video recordings ended up being deleted as police officers, who had finally arrived, looked on while doing little to restrain the violence.
After initially managing to extricate herself from the mob, the woman journalist was caught and trapped by several of the activists, who took a photo of her without her knowing, and who harassed her sexually, one of them displaying his genitals to her. When she turned to one of the policemen for help, he told her to “resolve the dispute verbally, among yourselves.”
She finally managed to escape and get to the nearest police station, where the other two journalists had already gone. But the police refused to register their complaint on the grounds that no one had “suffered any major injuries.”
When reached by RSF this morning, Tantray said he and his colleagues still hadn’t been able to file an initial complaint, known in India as a First Information Report. “It has been three days now and the police have neither registered an FIR nor have we received any communication about the assault,” he said. “My colleagues at The Caravan and I will continue doing the only thing we can, which is to report the truth and not be the mouthpiece of any political party.”
“The indifference of the police to these acts of violence against journalists trying to do their job is unacceptable and clearly constitutes complicity,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“We call on home affairs minister Amit Shah to publicly condemn these attacks committed in his party’s name and to ensure that an investigation is carried out to identify those responsible. The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi bring shame upon themselves by allowing their activists to repeatedly violate the safety of journalists and, by extension, press freedom itself.”
This attack comes against a backdrop of five months of intercommunal tension and clashes in the northeast of the capital. In early March, RSF reported that reporters covering these clashes were being subjected to attacks while the police took little or no action.
The Caravan deputy editorial manager Appu Ajith told RSF: “We're all extremely distressed by the incident, and we cannot overstate the courage our colleagues have displayed. Ever since the riots earlier this year, and even during the national lockdown to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, The Caravan has been at the forefront of reporting on the targeted attacks on Muslims during the Delhi violence and the police complicity.”
Ajith added: “But we would also need the authorities to intervene, defend the freedom of the press and ensure that such violence will not be tolerated."
India is ranked 142th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.