Rajen Deka, a reporter for Dainik Asom, one of Assam’s leading dailies, was returning to his home in Nalbari district on the evening of 25 April when he was ambushed and attacked with sharp weapons by individuals linked to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janaya Party (BJP), with the result that he had to be hospitalized with injuries to the head, chest and arm.
The website Scroll.in quoted Deka’s editor, Munin Bayon, as saying Deka had been the target of a social network campaign earlier that day in which participants “spoke of teaching him a lesson.” It was prompted by a short article by Deka that morning about clashes near a polling station the previous day between BJP supporters and supporters of Indian National Congress, the leading opposition party.
Deka reported that he was attacked by six or seven people with “some or the other connection to the BJP” and that he was able to identify at least two of his assailants. But the police claimed that there was only one assailant, and that they had not been able to establish any link with BJP members. No arrest has been made in the five days since the attack.
“We call on Assam’s highest authorities, starting with Chief Minister Sarbanada Sonowal, a leading BJP member, to do everything possible to ensure that an independent investigation identifies those responsible for this attack,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Any connivance by the security forces with those who want to prevent reporters from covering the elections would be intolerable. Urgent measures must also be taken to guarantee the safety of journalists, especially during the elections, when the role of the media is absolutely essential.”
Three attacks in two days
One the same evening as the attack on Deka, News18 TV reporter Upasana Barua Goswami was the target of violence by four individuals in a restaurant in Tinsukia district, in northeastern Assam. Her assailants were arrested but the motive for the attack has not yet been established.
Rajiv Borah, a journalist who runs E-media and works for the regional TV channel DY365, was attacked and beaten by five individuals two days later in Jorhat, a city 180 km southwest of Tinsukia. Only one of his assailants was arrested and, in this case as well, the police failed to identify the attack’s motive.
Assam’s journalists have been subjected to growing harassment for months, especially those covering the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, which would make it harder for Muslims to acquire citizenship. Two weeks ago, the home affairs ministry ordered Assam’s government to “take necessary action against” a newspaper, a news site and three regional TV channels that had dared to cover protests against the proposed legislation.
The federal government directive followed a complaint by an organization affiliated to Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist paramilitary group that supports the BJP. Four journalists – Nitumoni Saikia of the daily Asomiya Pratidin, Manjit Mahanta of the Inside NE website, Ajit Bhuyan of Pratidin Time TV and Afrida Hussain of Prag News TV – were named in the directive.
India is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, two places lower than in 2018.