- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

NEW DELHI Reporters and editors in India, the world's biggest democracy, are accusing the government of waging a campaign to squelch news reports that are critical of the ruling coalition.
At a meeting in New Delhi this month, which was followed by a demonstration on the street, top newspaper editors from across the country accused the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of trying to muzzle the press in an "undemocratic" way because of the criticism it has leveled against the government.
The move by the journalists followed the jailing of a correspondent of a Kashmir daily, the detention of an investigative reporter of an Internet publication and curbs on covering a recent visit of the new Indian president to Gujarat state, where Hindu-Muslim violence broke out early in the year.
Iftikhar Ali Geelani, New Delhi bureau chief of the Indian daily Kashmir Times and correspondent for the Pakistani newspaper the Nation, was arrested two months ago and charged with violating India's Official Secrets Act.
After raiding Mr. Geelani's residence in New Delhi, police said they found sufficient evidence to sue him for spying for Pakistan a charge that Prabodh Jamwal, Kashmir Times editor, rejects as a "total fabrication."
Mr. Geelani remains in a New Delhi prison.
The Press Council of India says the so-called "secret" information found on Mr. Geelani's computer is available on the Internet.
Reporters Without Borders, in a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell just before his visit to India last month, said Mr. Geelani had been arrested "solely because of his coverage of the Kashmir conflict in which he criticized the Indian government."
In another recent incident, India's media was left stunned when Gujarat state authorities restricted media coverage of Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's meeting with a group of survivors of the Hindu-Muslim riots that left more than 2,000 Muslims dead. The local government cited "lack of space."
In June, Time magazine's New Delhi correspondent Alex Perry, a British national, was heckled by passport officials after an unflattering report on Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Venkat Narayan, president of New Delhi-based Foreign Correspondents' Club of South Asia, said: "Such moves by the government threaten to ruin India's reputation as a country where the press is truly free."
Of particular concern is the recent daylong detention of Aniruddha Bahal from the Indian Internet publication Tehelka, on charges of assaulting a government investigator.
Tehelka has been complaining for months of a systematic campaign of harassment by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the dominant party in the ruling coalition.
The publication says its journalists are being hounded by several government agencies for exposing an arms bribery scandal involving top politicians of BJP and one of its allies, severely embarrassing the government.
Mr. Bahal, who secretly filmed a BJP leader and top army officers accepting bribes, said during the Aug. 13 demonstration that he found the BJP "dangerous and duplicitous."


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