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IFJ condemns death threats against journalists in Chhattisgarh State

(IFJ/IFEX) - 31 December 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is shocked at the explicit death threats made to three journalists based in the southern district of Dantewada in India's Chhattisgarh state, by a vigilante group believed to be part of a covert operation to combat a long-running Maoist insurgency.

IFJ sources report that an unsigned letter issued in the name of the Adivasi Swabhimaani Manch (which loosely translates as "Forum for Advancement of the Indigenous Communities") was circulated on December 11, which sharply attacks the Maoist insurgents for the havoc they have caused to civic life in Chhattisgarh. The letter warmly commends a police official who took charge in the district of Dantewada some months back for the firmness of his resolve in combating the Maoists. It then proceeds to identify three local journalists by name and warn them that they cannot live for long "under the garb of human rights" and would meet a "dog's death" if they did not leave the region.

The journalists mentioned are N.R.K. Pillay, vice-president of the state-wide union of working journalists, the Chhattisgarh Shramjeevi Patrakar Sangh (CSPS), Anil Mishra, former district correspondent of the Hindi language daily Nai Duniya, and Yashwant Yadav of Deshbandhu, a widely-read and respected Hindi daily in the state.

Initial complaints by the targeted journalists filed with local police officials were reportedly met with indifference. On December 12, an audio report on the death threats issued against the three journalists was posted by the web-based citizen journalism portal, CGNet Swara.

Mangal Kunjam, the young reporter who phoned in with the story to the news portal, was reportedly called into the Kirandul police station in Dantewada district and warned of serious consequences.

The IFJ learned that the CSPS has taken up this matter with the local authorities and also sent a delegation to the state government to make a case for serious investigations into the death threat.

"We call for an explicit condemnation of this threat to press freedom and the safety of journalists by civil and police officials at the local and state level", said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"We see these recent events as a part of a broader attack on civil liberties in Chhattisgarh state and a symptom of growing intolerance towards civil society actors and human rights defenders."

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