Authorities in the Indian state of Telangana should immediately release journalist Ganji Raghu and drop any criminal investigation into his work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 3, masked men in plain clothes grabbed Raghu, a reporter with the news website Tolivelugu, outside his home in Hyderabad, and forced him into an unmarked car with its license plates covered, according to news reports, CCTV footage of the abduction shared with CPJ by Tolivelugu senior reporter Magham Srinivas, and the journalist’s wife, Praveena, who spoke to CPJ over the phone.
Later that day, police announced that Raghu was in custody, and a local court ordered him to remain in detention for 14 days pending an investigation into allegations that he participated in a clash between a local tribe and the police in Telangana’s Suryapet district in February, according to those news reports.
Srinivas told CPJ that Raghu covered those clashes as a journalist for the local broadcaster Raj News, where he worked at the time.
On June 4, Raghu’s family filed a petition with the Telangana High Court for his release, according to The Hindu. The petition was transferred to a local district court, and a hearing for his bail is scheduled for June 10, Praveena told CPJ.
“Police in the Indian state of Telangana need to be reminded that covering civil clashes is not a crime, but a normal part of reporting,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Police should immediately release Ganji Raghu, drop their investigation into his work, and apologize to him for the crude manner of his arrest.”
The February clashes with police stemmed from protests the tribe held in opposition to Saidi Reddy, a lawmaker in the state assembly with the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi party, who allegedly encroached on their land, Srinivas said.
He added that Reddy had threatened Raghu in the past over his reporting, but did not provide details about those threats.
CPJ was unable to find contact information for Saidi Reddy; CPJ contacted Telangana Rashtra Samithi spokesperson Abid Rasool Khan for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any reply.
If charged and convicted of rioting, Raghu could face a fine and up to three years in jail, according to the Indian penal code.
CPJ texted Mahendra Reddy, Telangana’s director-general of police, and Home Minister Mohammed Mahmood Ali, of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi party, for comment, but did not receive any responses.