This is a public statement; names of signatories given at the end.
As editors and senior journalists representing a cross-section of the print, television and online media, we wish to bring to your notice a matter of serious professional concern for the journalist fraternity.
Naveen Soorinje, a district reporter with the Kannada channel Kasturi Newz 24, was arrested by the Karnataka police on 7 November 2012 for the role he played in covering the 28 July 2012 attack by Hindutva vigilantes on innocent boys and girls who were celebrating a birthday at a homestay in Mangalore. In the two months that Naveen Soorinje has been in judicial custody in Mangalore, his mental and physical health has deteriorated drastically. He was recently discharged from the jail ward of the district hospital after suffering a bout of chickenpox.
It is our firm belief that of all the people, who were witness to the horrific attack on the Morning Mist homestay in Mangalore, Naveen Soorinje was the least deserving of such harsh punishment. Undoubtedly, no one – journalists included – is above the law, and the “right to free speech” argument has reasonable restrictions. However, Soorinje’s is a clear case of wrongful arrest.
He displayed both courage and professionalism in covering an attack by the members of the Hindu Jagaran Vedike on an innocent gathering of young men and women. He did what a good journalist should – he tried repeatedly to alert the police, tipped off other journalists, and then got his cameraman to record the event. It is the evidence gathered by him and his team that helped the state government identify the culprits. It came therefore as a shock to Soorinje and his colleagues that instead of being listed as a witness he was made an accused, and charged under the very same sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as the attackers.
The charge sheet, filed on 20 September 2012 invoked sections of the IPC relating to offences such as “rioting with deadly weapons”, “unlawful assembly”, “criminal conspiracy”, and “using criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty”, and Section 2(a) of the Karnataka Prevention of Destruction and Loss of Property Act 1981, and Sections 3 and 4 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986.
We are dismayed at the response of the Mangalore police to a conscientious journalist for reporting a crime. The police in their charge sheet accused Soorinje of “absconding”, a submission that led the court to issue a warrant for his arrest. This despite the fact that throughout the investigation Soorinje was cooperating and providing crucial evidence to the police even as he was reporting from various parts of the district on a daily basis. Significantly, Vijay Kumar, the person whose complaint led to Soorinje being listed as an accused, has gone on record to say that he made no such allegation.
These facts and Soorinje’s unblemished professional record – which is substantiated by his dogged reportage on religious extremism of all hues in coastal Karnataka – lead us to believe that he has been wrongly indicted by the police and that there are strong grounds for the state government to re-examine the case and drop the charges foisted against him.
We unequivocally endorse the campaign seeking Naveen Soorinje’s release and consider his incarceration a dangerous violation of the freedom of the press. After all, what kind of justice dictates that the whistle-blower and criminals share space in the same jail?
Ammu Joseph, N Bhanutej, Sugata Srinivasaraju, Gauri Lankesh
Anant Chinivar, Lakshman Hoogar, T M Veera Raghavan, Sevanti Ninan,
Geetha Seshu, Meena Menon