Authorities in the east Indian state of West Bengal should drop their investigation into journalist Debmalya Bagchi and stop harassing him simply for doing his job, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On September 6, police arrested Bagchi, a correspondent for the privately owned newspaper Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP), after a woman from the local Dalit community—a historically marginalized group in India’s caste system—filed a police complaint alleging that the journalist had assaulted her, according to news reports.
Bagchi was being investigated on four counts under the penal code—wrongful restraint, voluntarily causing hurt, intention to insult the modesty of a woman, and assault, according to the Indian Express newspaper and a colleague, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retribution. The penalties for these offences are prison sentences of up to one month, one year, three years, and three to seven years, respectively, with fines.
Bagchi was also under investigation for committing an offense against a scheduled, or disadvantaged, caste, those sources said, for which he could be jailed for six months to five years with a fine.
Bagchi’s colleague told CPJ that the correspondent was likely arrested because of his recent reporting on illegal liquor productionin the city of Kharagpur. “[He] is an extremely upright and honest journalist and faced significant pressure from local authorities regarding his work,” the colleague said.
“West Bengal authorities must immediately drop all investigations into Ananda Bazar Patrika journalist Debmalya Bagchi who has faced unjust harassment for fulfilling his journalistic duties,” said Kunāl Majumder, CPJ’s India representative. “We stand firmly with Bagchi and the free press in urging authorities to ensure that journalists are allowed to work without fear of retribution.”
Bagchi was released on bail on Thursday, September 14, his colleague told CPJ.
In a statement, reviewed by CPJ, the Press Club of Kolkata expressed its concern about Bagchi’s arrest and said it had met with the West Bengal’s chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, who “assured that due process will be followed.”
CPJ’s email to Dhritiman Sarkar, police superintendent for Paschim Medinipur District where Bagchi was under investigation, did not receive any reply.