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Two journalists held by authorities on defamation charges

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

IFJ Calls for Immediate Release of Editor Arrested in India

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed to learn of the arrest of B.V. Seetaram, chairman and chief editor of Chitra Publications, by police in the district of Udupi in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Seetaram, whose principal publication is the evening newspaper, Karavali Ale, published from the adjoining district headquarters town of Mangalore, is reportedly being held on charges of defamation filed two years ago. He was arrested while travelling with his wife through Udupi district by car. The police have also detained his wife who is a director of Chitra Publications.

When produced before a magistrate in Udupi on January 5, Seetaram reportedly refused to move for bail, since there were political forces in his home district that were allegedly intent on causing him harm.

Reports received by the IFJ suggest that the police had no arrest warrant when they took Seetaram into custody.

"We are opposed in principle to criminal defamation laws and the arrest of an editor is a matter of serious concern," said Jacqueline Park, IFJ Director for the Asia Pacific.

The IFJ is informed that Seetaram had in December 2008 lodged a complaint with the Press Council of India (PCI), alleging that there were systematic efforts afoot by political forces in Karnataka, to prevent the distribution of his newspaper on a regular basis.

The PCI has since issued notice to the local authorities, asking them to investigate these complaints.

The IFJ learns that Seetaram and his newspaper have been targeted by the authorities in Karnataka on earlier occasions too. He and his wife were arrested in March 2007 on charges of fomenting animosity on grounds of religion, though the case was not brought to trial.

A few days before Seetaram and his wife were arrested last year, their offices were broken into and valuable assets either destroyed or stolen.

"We understand that some incidents of communal conflict witnessed in Mangalore and its adjoining areas over the last few months have sharply polarised public opinion", said the IFJ Asia Pacific.

"Though Seetaram has been accused of fomenting animosity on grounds of religion, we are informed that he has done little else than name names of those responsible for the recent bouts of violence in the area".

"We urge the local authorities to ensure that the situation is not aggravated by invoking rarely used powers of suppressing the right of free expression through the press".

The IFJ calls for the immediate release of Seetaram and his wife and a full explanation from the Karnataka state police on the motivations behind its most recent acts of persecution against the press.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries.

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