Reporter M. Karthi sustained deep cuts to his head, a broken jaw and lesions all over his body when a group of men beat him with steel bars in Sivakasi, a town in Virudhunagar district, on the evening of 3 March. Karthi heard one of his assailants shout: “You want to publish news, you bastard? I’ll kill you today!”
The attack took place just hours after an article by Karthi about splits within Tamil Nadu’s leading regional political party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), was published in the Kumudham Reporter, the regional weekly for which he is the Virudhunagar district correspondent.
The article raised the possibility that the AIADMK faction led by Rajendra Balaji, Tamil Nadu’s minister of dairy development, could be defeated by a rival faction led by Raja Varman, a member of Tamil Nadu’s parliament.
Karthi says Balaji phoned him just before the attack to express his displeasure with the article. He also says he recognized two of his attackers as individuals nicknamed Sellapandi and Poomurugan who are supporters of the Balaji faction. The police arrested them yesterday.
According to the Virudhunagar superintendent of police, who is responsible for investigating the attack against Karthi, Sellapandi was involved in the death of Karthigai Selvan, a journalist who was murdered in Sivakasi in a similar attack by a group of men armed with steel bars in January 2017.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that someone involved in a journalist’s murder should be able to carry another attack on a journalist with complete impunity three years later,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Everything suggests that the responsibility for this attack lies above all with the minister Rajendra Balaji. We therefore call on Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami to fire him at once so that he can be brought to justice. The impunity must stop.”
Balaji is notorious for urging his supporters to use violence against his enemies. At a press conference last month, he told journalists they should not “ask questions about politics.” Last year, he called for the tongue of one of his opponents to be cut out.
India is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.