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Assam: Journalism in the time of insurgency
Nava Thakuria, Senior Journalist
Assam: Journalism in the time of insurgency
PHOTO : ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa (left) with officers of the outfit. File Photo

The working journalists, more particularly the reporters covering insurgency related incidents, always face a two-edged sword. Often they face brickbats (read threats) from both the insurgents turned terrorists and also the authority in power that implements counter-insurgency operations. Need not to claim again that the media has every right to report about the insurgencies and so the reporters may maintain official contacts with the militants belonged to the banned armed outfits too.

But the question that arises  here if that privilege empowers the journalists ‘to give inputs’ to the militants that might include the ‘target for extorting money or punishing for spying to the authorities’. If the media houses can not be punished for ‘receiving a mail’ from the outlawed militant groups, can they ‘forward’ the same mail to someone even for the reporting purpose? This is one practice, the journalists working in conflict zones often adopt out of their ignorance if not for the selfish interest.

All these questions, which were raised, debated and defined among Guwahati based journalists decades back during the heyday of banned United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) that put whole Assam in troubles in Nineties, have emerged once again following the arrest of Jaikhlong Brahma, a Kokrajhar based television journalist on September 2, 2014. Brahma  was recently granted bail by the Guwahati High Court, though he has been advised not to leave Kokrajhar without the prior permission from the concerned chief judicial magistrate until further orders. The December 2 court verdict also ordered Brahma to appear before the investigating officers regularly for at least two months. Earlier the Guwahati High Court quashed his detention under National Security Act (of India) by an order on October 22. The television scribe was booked under several sections of IPC along with Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act 2008 three months back. The forty crossed journalist was later detained under the NSA on September 9. Brahma  was produced before the chief judicial magistrate of Kokrajhar on September 3,where he was remanded to police custody for five days.

He was again produced in the same court after the police remand was over and this time the Kokrajhar chief judicial magistrate sent Brahma to the judicial custody. The arrest of Brahma, who is working for the privately owned satellite channel News Live, resulted in massive protests across Assam by the media organizations. The major one was organized by Kokrajhar Press Club on September 8, where over 800 people including non-media persons were present and they unanimously demanded Brahma’s unconditional release.

One more television journalist (Rinoy Basumatary) from Kokrajhar in western Assam, who works for another Guwahati based satellite channel News Time Assam, also faced an arrest warrant by the police for the same offence. The police also raided his residence in connection with the case and afterward Basumatary went absconding. Brahma and his family members strongly denied the allegations leveled by the Kokrajhar police that he was involved in ‘providing information about the movement of security personnel engaged in counter-insurgency operations to the militants belonged to National Democratic Front of Bodoland (IK Songbijit faction)’. The local journalists of Kokrajhar also claimed that neither Brahma nor any scribe from their locality was instigating the militants compromising the national security.

A protest meeting was also organized at Guwahati Press Club on September 4 that urged the Tarun Gogoi led Congress government in Dispur to release Brahma and withdraw Basumatary’s arrest warrant. Various speakers in the meeting, as they categorically declared that they never glorify the insurgents’ terror acts, also strongly argued that a journalist has the right to communicate the insurgent leaders for reporting purposes and only for that reason, he or she must not be made accountable.
Later two international media persons’ organizations came come out with statements deploring the arrest of Brahma. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), while condemning the government for the arrest, insisted on Brahma’s immediate release. “We demand an immediate and fair investigation into the matter. The rights of the media to report are clear in India’s constitution and a journalist should not be arrested for simply reporting the information they disseminate,” said an IFJ statement issued from its headquarter in Brussels.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also expressed concern over the arrest of Brahma and arrest warrant to Basumatary. The media persons’ rights body headquartered in New York called on the authority to ‘publicly disclose the evidence’ used to hold Brahma in custody.

“Accusations of compromising national security are a common method used by Indian authorities to silence local journalists. CPJ research shows that several journalists including Aseem Trivedi, Sudhir Dhawale and Lingaram Kodopi have been arrested on anti-State charges in recent years. All three were eventually freed,” said a CPJ statement. Even the Amnesty International joined in the chorus against the authorities for putting Brahma under the NSA. The international rights body in a statement pointed out that the NSA, enacted in 1980 by the Indian Union government, has the provision ‘to detain individuals by executive order without charge or trial, and denies them the safeguards of a fair trial as required under international law’.

The Kokrajhar based journalists, who met the State chief minister Gogoi recently to assert that they do not support any militant groups. Claiming that the police had no concrete evidence against Brahma and Basumatary having unlawful links with the separatist militants, the journo team reiterated their demand to release Brahma and withdraw the arrest warrant against Basumatary urgently.

[ Mr. Nava Thakuria is a Senior Journalist based in Guwahati, writes on various issues to Media across Asia, Secretary of JFA (Journalists’ Forum of Assam ) ]

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