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Journalist assaulted after reporting on illegal clearing of forests

(IFJ/IFEX) - April 17, 2012 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemns the criminal assault on Kamal Shukla, District Bureau Chief of the Hindi language daily Rajasthan Patrika in Kanker, in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

The assault is believed to have been in retaliation for a series of reports that appeared in the local press under Shukla's name, exposing the illegal clearing of protected forests in the region.

Shukla was attacked late on the evening of April 11 at his office in the district headquarters town of Kanker. His principal assailant, who entered his office and repeatedly hit him with an iron rod, has been identified as a local political activist, Anupam Awasthi. Two others reportedly stood at the doorway to ensure that nobody could come to Shukla's assistance.

Shukla suffered severe bruises on his shoulder and back and had to be hospitalised for five days for urgent medical attention. Discharged on April 16, he is yet to resume work. His laptop computer and camera - both uninsured and acquired through his own resources - were destroyed in the attack.

After his newspaper proved reluctant to publish, Shukla's first report on illegal forest felling in Chhattisgarh was broadcast over the mobile-phone based citizen journalism site CGNet Swara late in March. Following that, a number of local newspapers picked up the story, publishing details of the illicit operations carried out by a village council head, who also happens to be a brother of the state's Minister for Forests.

After these reports appeared, all under his name, Shukla was reportedly offered several inducements to cease his reporting by Awasthi who is known to work closely with the state Minister for Forests.

"We have had occasion in recent years to interact with journalists in Chhattisgarh state, where a long-running Maoist insurgency has posed innumerable difficulties for the practice of their profession", said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.

"This assault on a public-spirited journalist by individuals connected to the state administration is another category of hazard.

"We call on the state government to immediately take action against those responsible for this criminal assault, on the basis of the preliminary information lodged by Shukla and the statement he has recorded with the local police".

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