Indian authorities must conduct a swift and transparent investigation into the recent attacks on journalists in the eastern state of Tripura, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On November 21, in the run-up to municipal elections scheduled to begin tomorrow, groups of people allegedly working for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition Trinamool Congress clashed in the streets of the state capital, Agartala, injuring at least 19 people, according to news reports.
At least five journalists were among those injured, according to the news website Newslaundry and Santosh Gope, secretary of Tripura Journalists Union, a local trade group, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.
“Authorities in India’s Tripura state must thoroughly investigate recent attacks on journalists, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “The state government has a responsibility to guarantee that journalists can do their jobs safely, without threats to their lives.”
Gope and Newslaundry identified the injured journalists as Ali Akbar Lashkar and Mamoni Bhattacharya, reporters with Kolkata-based news website Ab Tak Khabar; Miltan Dhar, a photographer with the news channel News Vanguard; Bapan Das, a photographer with the news channel Times24; and Prashant Dey, a photographer with the news channel Headlines Tripura.
Lashkar told CPJ in a phone interview that he and Bhattacharya had traveled to Agartala from Kolkata to cover the election. In the evening of November 21, he and the other reporters were interviewing government officials and politicians outside the East Agartala Women’s Police Station, where a Trinamool Congress politician had been detained, when a group of nearly 200 arrived and started attacking people.
Members of the mob wore helmets and brandished hockey sticks, batons, and rods, according to Newslaundry.
Lashkar told CPJ that he did not know the identities or affiliations of the people who attacked him. He said the attackers stole his press card, broke his boom mic, punched him, and beat him with batons as he struggled to enter the police station for his safety. He told CPJ that he sustained injuries to his back, head, and eyes.
Police took Lashkar and Bhattacharya to a nearby government hospital for treatment, but another group of about 20 people attempted to attack them there, and the journalists hid inside a bathroom for their safety, Lashkar told CPJ.
After about two hours in the hospital’s bathroom, Lashkar and Bhattacharya fled to their hotel, but the owner asked them to leave fearing further violence, the journalist told CPJ. They reached the airport early on the morning of November 22, and a Trinamool Congress politician helped Lashkar reach Kolkata where he is undergoing medical treatment at the SSKM Hospital, he said.
Gope told CPJ that Dhar, Das, and Dey also suffered injuries during the clash at the police station, and said they were treated at a local hospital and released later on November 21. CPJ was unable to find contact information for Das and Dey. Dhar did not respond to a text message and call from CPJ requesting comment.
Tripura Police Director General V.S. Yadav did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. CPJ texted BJP spokesperson Nabendu Bhattacharjee and Trinamool Congress Governor Subal Bhowmik for comment, but did not immediately receive any replies.
Previously, on November 3, Tripura police opened investigations into five journalists on terror charges, and on November 15, authorities in the state charged two journalists for allegedly spreading communal violence, according to news reports and CPJ’s reporting.