Reporters Without Borders is outraged by Indian authorities’ brutal search, aimed at members of the Karen community in the Andaman Islands, for those who helped two French documentarians gain access to the prohibited lands of the Jarawa tribe.
Journalists Alexandre Dereims and Claire Beilvert entered the reserve of the aboriginal tribe in order to report on a largely unknown people who are facing extinction. In October, a trailer for the documentary went up on the web, along with photos taken during the reporting trip, thereby alerting authorities in the archipelago, which is governed by India. Officials demanded a prohibition on dissemination of the documentary, which scheduled for release in 2015. The government also launched a major effort – including resorting to violence - to find those who helped the journalists. According to The Echo of India, three members of the Karen community, Saw Santom, Saw Awenger and Saw Safrni, were arrested and beaten by the police chief of Mayabunder to force them to confess to their alleged complicity with the French reporters. One of the three had to be hospitalized after being interrogated. The other two are still jailed. According to Indian media, charges have been filed against the journalists. They are reportedly accused of having violated the “Aboriginal Tribes Protection Act of 2012” by entering a tribal reserve. And publication of photos and videos on their Facebook account allegedly violates the “Information Technology Act.” The Andaman authorities are also reportedly planning to seek help from Interpol in pursuing the case. “It is unacceptable for police to launch a witch-hunt to punish those who assist the media,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk. “The police are taking all measures, including use of violence, to find the guilty parties and obtain confessions. Officials have to recognize journalists’ rights not to reveal their sources. Though it is true that they broke the law on protection of aboriginal tribes, the human rights issues raised by their documentary make it a work of public interest. Consequently, their actions may be justified under international law.” Virginie Dangles, the RWB programme director, said, “We ask that officials stop harassing members of the Karen community suspected of having helped the journalists, and that officials respect the rule of law. We also ask that charges against the journalists be dropped.” According to The Echo of India, the police took their action without any judicial order. On 31 October, Member of Parliament Bishnu Pada Ray urged the Andaman and Nicobar administration to cease harassing innocent members of the Karen community as part of the investigation. India is ranked 140th of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index.