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Two dozen of their brethren killed since 1992, Indian Journalists ask for New Law to Protect their Rights

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesman, rejected the CPJ findings, claiming there was no need for a separate law

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Sept 07, 2016: Indian journalists are demanding a fresh law that protects their rights in the wake of a new report that claims more than two dozen of their type has been killed since 1992 in the world’s most populous and renowned democracy.

“It is now extremely important to have some sort of cover for journalists, especially those who are vulnerable – the ones working in small towns, as they do not have the same level of support as journalists working in big cities,” said Jagtap Yadav, a senior journalist from Agra, in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state to Benar News.

“Investigative reporters and cameramen, particularly those covering politics and corruption, are working under constant threats. We need a new law that protects us,” Yadav said.

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Journalist Kishore Dave, the bureau chief of local daily “Jai Hind-Sanjh Samachar,” was stabbed to death on August 22, 2016, at his workplace in Junagadh, Gujarat, according to Indian media reports. Three suspects were arrested two days later. One of the suspects arrested was involved in a business partnership with and had issues with the journalist, New Delhi Television reported.

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Demand grows

Yadav said the call for a new law to protect the rights of Indian media workers began in May after two journalists were killed in Bihar while working on separate stories.

On May 13, two men on a motorcycle gunned down Rajdeo Ranjan, bureau chief of leading Hindi-language daily Hindustan, in the Siwan district of Bihar. A day earlier, Taza TV news channel reporter Akhilesh Pratap Singh was killed in a similar fashion in neighboring Jharkhand state.

The demand for increased protection gained support and attention after the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based international media overseer, released a report on Monday claiming that the Indian government has failed profusely to protect the journalists who were working to expose graft, Yadav said.

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The investigative report by CPJ shows that 27 Indian journalists have been killed during the past 24 years. The CPJ said it found only one case in the past 10 years where a suspect had been charged, prosecuted and convicted for killing a journalist.

Kishore Dave’s killing was not included in the CPJ report.

“As a group, we welcome the CPJ findings. It will strengthen our demand for a new law,” Yadav said.

The CPJ report also noted that India’s disreputably slow judiciary is a concern. “Even if a court hears the case, there will be delays,” the report said.

India, with its population of 1.25 billion people, has more than 30 million cases pending in the court system, according to the latest available official figures.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to work and report on [the] ground, partly because there are no credible institutions that one can turn toward,” said Sonal Mehrotra of NDTV to Benar News.

Mehrotra and a colleague were threatened with violence, abused and maltreated by a group of lawyers while reporting inside New Delhi’s Patiala House Courts for a story related to the arrest of a controversial student leader on charges of sedition in February.

“It is all very ironic as it happened in a court room, which is one of the most important pillars of a democratic society. Shockingly, it took me longer to file a police complaint than it took for the accused to get bail. And not much has moved forward since,” Mehrotra said.

Calls for law to shield press

The New Delhi-based Press Club of India president Rahul Jalali said a law on the books, the Working Journalists’ Act, provides some cover to regular employees of newspapers, but even press associations are “not clear about its exact implementations.”

“We need a new law that covers all working journalists, whether freelance or contractual, so that they are not exploited,” Jalali told in a recent interview. “I have observed that a majority of defamation cases in the past couple of years have been on journalists working for online magazines, which the present law does not protect.”

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesman, rejected the CPJ findings, claiming there was no need for a separate law.

“I do not agree with the sentiment that there is shrinking space for free speech in India. This [the CPJ report] is mostly propaganda,” he was quoted saying.

“Yes, there have been incidents of journalists being targeted recently, but we have always made it a point to come forward and vehemently condemn such acts of violence [as] journalism continues to be a strong pillar of our democracy,” he added. (Benar News)

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  • Arya Sharan

    The media is expected to expose lies and tell truth but when they are the ones who suffer when they do so.

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)