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TV journalist arrested for coverage of vigilante attack in India

UPDATE: High Court orders stay in criminal proceedings against Indian journalist (IFJ, 20 November 2012)

(IFJ/IFEX) - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins partners and affiliates in India in condemning the arrest of Naveen Soorinje, a journalist with the Kasturi TV news channel in Mangalore city in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. Soorinje is accused of being involved in an attack on a group of teenagers by a right-wing political group on July 28. The attack was one of a recurring series carried out by a group that has earned notoriety for its moral vigilantism.

Reports received by the IFJ indicate that Soorinje was arrested late in the night on November 7, when he was returning from a reporting assignment for his Kannada-language news channel. He has been charged under provisions of the law dealing with rioting, unlawful assembly, criminal trespass and intent to inflict violence on women.

According to inquiries made by local journalists, Soorinje's telephone records from July 28 indicate clearly that he was tipped off about the attack that day by somebody in the vicinity. He arrived at the scene of the attack, with a news crew to cover the incident a short time later.

Soorinje's report, broadcast on Kasturi TV, created widespread outrage over the attack on the group of teenagers who had gathered to celebrate a birthday. The footage that accompanied the report was of assistance to the police in arresting those responsible.

Journalists' unions in Mangalore and the neighbouring district of Udupi have condemned Soorinje's arrest as a direct assault on press freedom.

In a memorandum submitted to local police authorities, the Udupi District Union of Working Journalists has pointed out that the incident had led to an intense debate within the profession about the manner in which a reporter should go about his job when he is aware of an illegal act being committed.

Questions have been raised about the duty of the reporter in a situation when he or she is witness to an illegal action: whether it is to first inform the authorities of the illegality or to document it.

The district union has pointed out that neither was there evidence of wrongdoing on Soorinje's part nor of any prior knowledge of the intent to carry out the attack. His reporting, on the contrary, was of direct utility to the officers of the law in bringing the culprits to account.

The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), a member unit of Indian Journalists' Union, an IFJ-affiliate, has condemned the arrest and demanded Soorinje's immediate release. The DUJ has called on the Press Council of India to use its authority to reprimand the police authorities in Mangalore district for what seems to be an act of vendetta.

The IFJ Asia-Pacific joins these demands and calls for recognising the valuable public purpose that Soorinje's work has served.

"We appreciate the debate that the incident has triggered among journalists about the proper and ethical response to such situations. We call on the police authorities to allow room for this debate to develop and not preempt a reasonable conclusion through harsh and vengeful actions".

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries.

What other IFEX members are saying
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