On 7 February, a group of over 20 people gathered outside the home of Malini Subramaniam, a journalist who has written extensively on human rights violations in the state. They urged her neighbours to stone her house and chanted slogans suggesting that she was an agent for Maoist armed groups.
On the morning of 8 February, stones were thrown at the journalist’s house, shattering her car’s rear windshield. Later that day, an anti-Maoist group released a public statement accusing her of presenting a distorted picture of Bastar and promoting Maoist ideology.
“This attack is another indicator of the increasingly hostile atmosphere in which journalists and human rights defenders operate in Chhattisgarh,” said Makepeace Sitlhou, Campaigner at Amnesty International India.
“The government of Chhattisgarh must not just sit on its hands and watch journalists being threatened and harassed. They must act on their promise to protect journalists from being attacked simply for doing their work.”
Speaking to Amnesty International India, Malini Subramaniam said, “This is not an attack on me as a person but as a journalist reporting incidents on the ground, something that they don’t want”. The journalist worked earlier at the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Chhattisgarh, which was asked to suspend operations in 2013 by state authorities.
According to Malini Subramaniam’s lawyer, the police refused to register a First Information Report (FIR) about the attack on 8 February, and said that they would need the approval of a senior official, who was traveling. The police eventually registered an FIR on 9 February, in the journalist’s absence, against unnamed persons for the offences of house-trespass and ‘mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees’.
“Authorities in Chhattisgarh need to take this incident seriously, and immediately conduct a swift, independent and thorough investigation. Police inaction will only send the message that these attacks can be carried out with impunity,” said Makepeace Sitlhou.
Journalists and human rights defenders in Bastar have been at the receiving end of human rights abuses by both security forces and Maoist armed groups in connection with their work.
Local journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag have been in judicial custody since July and September 2015, respectively. Santosh Yadav, who has faced repeated police harassment in the past, is suspected of rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder, as well as “associating with a terrorist organization” and “supporting and aiding terrorist groups” under laws including the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, both of which violate international human rights law and standards.
Following the arrests, journalists in Chhattisgarh have been protesting against what they say is growing police harassment and a deteriorating work environment, especially in Bastar district. In December 2015, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh met protesting journalists and reportedly acknowledged the challenges they faced. He also proposed to set up a committee to look into issues faced by journalists.
In July 2015, a senior police official allegedly called for the ‘social exclusion’ of Amnesty International Prisoners of Conscience Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodopi, after they accused the police of carrying out an extrajudicial execution.
Journalists in Chhattisgarh have been targeted by both security forces and Maoist armed groups in the past. In December 2013, journalist Sai Reddy was killed allegedly by Maoist armed groups who suspected him of working with the police. Another journalist, Nemi Chand Jain, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Sukma district in February 2013. In 2011, two other journalists, Umesh Rajput and Sushil Pathak, were also killed in Chhattisgarh.