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Indian TV crew attacked by spiritual leader's followers; newspaper asked to identify source

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) affiliate members, the Indian Journalists' Union (IJU) and the National Union of Journalists of India (NUJ-I) condemn an attack on a TV news crew by followers of spiritual cult leader Asumal Sirumalani, alias Asaram Bapu, who is currently under arrest over the alleged sexual assault of an under-age girl.

IFJ Asia Pacific understands that Sirumalani's followers had gathered in strength at a building run by his cult in Jodhpur city in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, where the sexual assault allegation was lodged. A news crew was attacked by the crowd, injuring a camera operator and a reporter.

The NUJ(I) says this is one of several instances where journalists have been subjected to violence. It has called for legislation to specifically protect journalists from these assaults. The IJU has urged those responsible for the assault be arrested and has called on journalists' unions elsewhere in the country to protest the violence.

The IFJ is concerned that similar incidents have been reported by Sirumalani's supporters in Raipur, capital city of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh. It's believed six journalists, mostly from TV, were injured in these incidents.

"We join our partners in India in condemning these acts of violence", said the IFJ Asia Pacific.

"We call on politicians who may have created a public mood in which this violence has occurred, to publicly dissociate themselves from attacks on media freedom.

"We further call on the authorities to ensure that the action taken against those under arrest in both Jodhpur and Raipur sends out a clear deterrent message against similar violence in future".

Investigators urged to rescind order seeking news sources in India's Manipur state

In a separate development, police investigators inquiring into the source of a picture published in a daily in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur in 2010 are intruding into press freedom, the IFJ warned.

Reports from the All Manipur Working Journalists' Union (AMWJU), a unit of the IJU, indicate that the editor of the Naharolgee Thoudang, published from the state capital Imphal, recently received a communication dated August 8 from India's National Investigation Agency (NIA), demanding that he hand over the original print or digital image of a picture published in the daily in 2010.

The NIA, a recently constituted agency under India's Union Government, tasked specifically with investigating terrorism cases, has also asked the editor to name the photographer involved in capturing the image of the "raising day" of a banned militant outfit, the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA), which has been engaged in an insurgency against government forces since 1978.

The IFJ has in past years had occasion to raise a number of concerns about the safety and security of journalists in Manipur. With a population of less than three million and an estimated thirty underground militant organisations which operate with impunity, Manipur has always been challenging terrain for the practice of journalism.

Security officials are often known to issue explicit threats that media seen to be lending "direct or indirect" support to any of the banned militant groups would be liable for summary action, including seizure and forfeiture.

At the same time, the militant groups exert pressures through numerous channels to seek publicity for particular points of view and deny others any manner of a hearing.

"We call on the investigating agency in India to reconsider and rescind its order to the Imphal newspaper, seeking it to identify the source of a news photograph".

"In a climate of uncertainty and fear, this adds to the sense of siege that journalists in Manipur work under".

"Every ban enforced on an armed underground organisation is subject to judicial review at periodic intervals".

"By the same criterion, Manipur's media must not be prevented from reporting on these organisations in a manner that is objective and dispassionate and does not amount to an advocacy of their ends or means".

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