New Delhi: Maoists in Chhattisgarh have issued a statement warning reporters against travelling with the police in the state’s interior regions.
The statement has come on the heels of the October 30 attack by Maoists in which one cameraman from Doordarshan – Achyutananda Sahu – and two policemen were killed in Dantewada and ahead of assembly elections in Chhattisgarh on November 12 and 20.
The Communist Party of India (Maoist) has reportedly taken responsibility for the Tuesday attack and is calling for a boycott of the upcoming elections.
According to PTI, police are verifying the authenticity of this statement.
The statement released by the group says that the incident involving Sahu’s death was entirely his fault as the journalists had chosen to travel with state security forces. The statement says that the Maoists do not intend to target the media but warned that journalists who do wish to visit areas like Bastar – where Maoists have sway – should do so on their own, unaccompanied by any government representatives.
The statement is signed by Sainath, secretary of the Darbha division committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). He is believed to be linked to several deadly attacks in Bastar, including the 2013 attack in which 28 people were killed including top Congress leaders. Sainath was earlier in Maharashtra and is believed to have escaped from the Kasansur attack in Gadchiroli earlier this year.
A journalist who was on Sahu’s team – Mormukt Sharma – recorded a video while hiding from heavy gunfire during the clash between Maoists and state security forces. The video was released to the public after the attack, which Sharma survived.
A report released by Human Rights Law Network this year chronicles various cases of journalists attacked by both Maoist rebels as well as Indian security forces. For example, 51-year-old Sai Reddy was killed in 2013 in Chhattisgarh. Reddy was a reporter for the Hindi newspaper Deshbandhu. Statements allegedly released by Maoists about his death said that they believed he was also a police informer. The police had also investigated Reddy saying that they believed he was close to the Maoists.
The same report also records the death of Jitendra Singh, a journalist killed in Jharkhand, also allegedly by Maoists. News reports said that he was believed to be working with the government on development projects in Maoist areas while also being a reporter for the Hindi newspaper Prabhat Khabar.
The statement, released Friday, has come on the day of United Nations’ ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.’
India has consistently ranked low on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. India is ranked 136th among 180 countries, only three notches ahead of Pakistan (139), Sri Lanka (141) and Bangladesh.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 48 journalists were killed in India between 1992 and 2018.
The need to protect journalists reporting in war time is laid out even in the Geneva Convention, ratified in 1949. It set out standards for conducting warfare, including the treatment of journalists accompanying military forces. The Geneva Convention says that if journalists are captured during this conflict, they should be treated as prisoners of war. In 1977, the Geneva Convention had a new language added to it, saying that journalists engaged in professional reporting during armed conflict should be considered civilians and civilians cannot be deliberately targeted by military forces.