NEW YORK, Sep 17 (APP): The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent watchdog body, has voiced concern over attacks on journalists in India’s Tripura state following critical reports in the media about alleged mishandling the coronavirus pandemic that drew grim warnings from the state’s state Chief Minister Biplab Deb.
In a statement, CPJ urged Tripura authorities drop any legal threats against publications there, thoroughly investigate attacks on journalists, and guarantee press freedom in the state.
On September 11, Chief Minister Deb, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), condemned recent local news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, which he alleged overstated the severity of the crisis, saying, “history will not forgive them [journalists], I shall not forgive them either,” according to news reports and a video of his remarks shared on Twitter cited by CPJ.
The following day, unidentified individuals beat up Parashar Biswas, a reporter with Bengali-language daily Syandan Patrika, at his home in Tripura’s Dhalai district, according to news reports and his editor Subal Kumar Dey, who CPJ said spoke with its officials over the phone.
The attack came shortly after Biswas posted a video on his personal Facebook page, where he frequently posts his reporting, criticizing Deb’s comments and accusing the state government of mishandling the pandemic and unfairly blaming journalists.
On September 13, Shailendra Yadav, district magistrate and collector of West Tripura district, who reports to Chief Minister Deb’s government, issued a legal notice to Bengali-language newspaper Dainik Sambad, alleging that three articles in the paper criticizing the state’s handling of the pandemic violated the law, according to reports and a copy of the notice which CPJ said it had reviewed.
“CPJ is concerned by recent disparaging remarks against the Indian press made by Tripura state Chief Minister Biplab Deb, which were followed by violence and legal threats against journalists,” CPJ senior Asia researcher Aliya Iftikhar said in a statement. “The Tripura government should reaffirm its commitment to press freedom, and should ensure that the legal threats are dropped, the attack on journalist Parashar Biswas is thoroughly investigated, and that the press can work freely.”
Dey told CPJ that he suspected Bharatiya Janata Party members were behind the attack on Biswas, noting that the attack came so quickly after Biswas posted his comments critical of Deb, and said that Biswas did not have any enemies.
The party’s Tripura state spokesperson denied any connection to the attack, according to reports.
Dey, the editor, said that Biswas was hospitalized with injuries to his head and face following the attack, was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday, and plans to return for a CT scan.
CPJ said Additional Director General of Police Rajiv Singh did not respond to its text message request for comment. He told NDTV that the police are investigating the attack. The police have not made any arrests as of today, Dey said.
The Tripura Assembly of Journalists, an umbrella body of various journalists’ groups, issued a statement reviewed by CPJ claiming that journalists have been threatened and attacked throughout the state following Deb’s comments.
Separately in Tripura state, on September 12, seven to eight men threatened Ashok Dasgupta, a reporter for local news channel News Today and the Tripura Khabar newspaper, in South Tripura while he was reporting on a water shortage in the area, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.
According to Dasgupta and news reports, the men manhandled him and tried to snatch his mobile phone while he was reporting. He said he did not file a police complaint.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, CPJ said it has documented a growing number of arrests, legal notices, and police investigations into journalists across India, including in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu.