The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned over the harassment and threat to the life of Kamlesh Paikra, a regional language journalist in the state of Chattisgarh. Intimidation of journalists and preventing them from carrying out their profession is unacceptable under any circumstances, but when reporting on conflict, journalists are already in a precarious position between combatant parties. Only when they are allowed to report independently and without fear, can a genuine democracy be said to be in place,� said IFJ president Christopher Warren. Until December 2005, Kamlesh Paikra, 27, was the Bijapur correspondent with Hindsatt, a daily published from Jagdalpur. His regular reporting on Naxalites (local name for the banned Communist Party of India ( Maoist) in Dantewada district raised the suspicions of the police.
In April 2005, D L Manhar, the Superintendent of Police (SP) had summoned Paikra and demanded that Paikra reveal his sources. But the journalist, adhering to journalistic ethics, refused to do so. Revealing his sources would also have put Paikra at risk of reprisals from the Maoists. Following his refusal to disclose his sources, the SP warned Paikra of �dire consequences�.
In September 2005, around 50 houses were burnt in Mankeli village, 15km from Bijapur by gangs purporting to be ‘Salwa Judum’. ‘Salwa Judum’, or ‘Peace March’ which began around June 2005 as a people�s revolt against excesses by the Maoists, has now been hijacked by the State who is raising and supporting an armed militia against the Maoists. Under the guise of flushing out Maoists, this armed militia (appropriately called ‘Special Police Officers’ in official parlance) is reportedly behind a spate of violence and harassment against ordinary citizens, causing displacement on a large scale. The displaced persons are now living in camps under extremely harsh conditions.
Kamlesh Paikra�s report on the burning of the houses published in the September 8 issue of Hindsatt generated wide concern, and resulted in a visit to Mankeli by a team of CPI (Communist Party of India). When news of the atrocities in Mankeli began to filter out, Paikra’s life was made miserable. The permit for his fair price shop, which Paikra ran to supplement his meagre income as a journalist, was cancelled. Despite several applications, it has not been renewed, thus causing immense financial hardship to the family.
His harassment by the administration and ‘Salwa Judum’took a serious turn when even his movements were physically restricted, and ‘Salwa Judum’ personnel prevented him from travelling outside Bijapur, especially to camps of displaced persons, and also prevented him from accompanying a human rights team that visited the area between November 26-29.
Following the human rights team�s press release, the administration was further irked and a false case was lodged against Paikra�s elder brother Tarkeshwar Singh, a headmaster of a village school, who was arrested on 1 December on grounds of possessing Naxalite literature and uniforms. Singh was released on bail after two weeks, but the case is still pending.
Kamlesh Paikra was forced to move along with his wife and parents to Dantewada town in the third week of December. He has received reliable information that the police is planning to eliminate him in an encounter, and is therefore unable to return to Bijapur. He does not have a job and is paying the price for honest reporting.
The ‘Chattisgarh Shramjivi Patrakar Sangh’ (Chattisgarh Working Journalists Union), has petitioned the Chattisgarh Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh and the Chattisgarh Governor Lt Gen KM Seth to provide security to enable Paikra to return to Bijapur. There has been no response to this petition, and his life continues to be at risk.
�The harassment must immediately stop and Kamlesh Paikra must be allowed to live and work in his home town, said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
The IFJ urges the authorities to respect journalists� rights and the rule of law.