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Criminal charges filed against Indian investigative reporter

UPDATE: Bail granted for Indian journalist, but worries persist over political pressures (IFJ, 25 February 2013)

(IFJ/IFEX) - January 15, 2013 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is extremely concerned to learn of the criminal charges filed against investigative reporter K.K. Shahina by police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Shahina, who currently works with the weekly magazine Open, faces charges under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including criminal conspiracy and intimidation of witnesses with intent to commit a crime. The chargesheet filed in the sessions court in the district of Kodagu in Karnataka state, also indicts her under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, which is most commonly invoked to deal with terrorist offences.

These charges stem from a story published under Shahina's byline in the weekly magazine Tehelka in December 2010, which appeared to cast doubt on the prosecution of a prominent Islamic cleric and political figure on terrorism charges.

Shahina, who then worked as correspondent for Tehelka in the state of Kerala, based her story on interviews with key witnesses in the case against Abdul Nasar Mahdani, an Islamic cleric who heads the Peoples' Democratic Party, active mainly in the state of Kerala. Mahdani has since been arrested and charged by Karnataka police for conspiracy to detonate a series of low-intensity bomb blasts in the state capital city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) in July 2008.

Shahina's story cited several of the witnesses named by the Karnataka police as saying that their testimony has been misinterpreted or distorted in making out the charges against Mahdani.

In March 2011, Shahina was honoured with the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding woman media person. The awards citation mentioned her investigative work in defence of civil liberties, among other contributions.

Facing the possibility of arrest since January 2011, Shahina approached the district court in Kodagu for anticipatory bail, but was turned down. It was only in July 2011 that the Karnataka High Court granted her provisional immunity from arrest. With charges now formally registered in the sessions court, she will be required to appeal for renewal of her bail and also travel from her base of Kochi city in Kerala, to Madikeri in Kodagu district for every hearing.

The IFJ calls on the authorities in Karnataka state to reconsider their intent to prosecute Shahina, whose work has been an example of investigative journalism in the cause of civil liberties.

"We see this prosecution as an instance of seeking to silence fair and independent reporting through legal injunction. We fear that the process of the law, with the demands it makes on the time and energy of the defendant, is often punishment in itself and will severely impair this journalist's professional effectiveness."

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