- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

GAUHATI, India (AP) - Indian media and a rights group accused a paramilitary force on Wednesday of attempting to curtail press freedom by asking newspapers in an insurgency-hit northeastern state to stop publishing statements from a banned rebel group.

Nagaland Page newspaper editor Monalisa Changkija said the Press Council of India, an independent media watchdog, asked the Assam Rifles to explain why it issued notices to newspapers accusing them of supporting the group by publishing its statements.

The outlawed Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland killed 18 Indian army soldiers in May in the worst attack in two decades in Nagaland state. The group has been fighting for an independent homeland for Naga tribes. It ended 14 years of peace talks with the government in March.

The Indian government banned the group last month.

Three of the five newspapers that received the notice issued by the Assam Rifles left their editorial spaces blank last week to express their anger.

Though India has laws protecting freedom of the press, it ranked 136th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

“Quoting or reporting the statements of militant groups, like the statements of any source, is part of the work of the journalists. We remind the Assam Rifles that reporting statements is not the same as endorsing them or promoting them. It is part of the job of providing the public with information,” the Press Council of India said in a statement Tuesday.

The Assam Rifles has denied that it issued any “gag order” to the media in Nagaland. But it said publishing an extortion notice issued by the banned group to businesses was akin to helping it collect funds that would be used to carry out activities against the government and security forces.

It warned the newspapers that they could be prosecuted for publishing the group’s statements.

“It was the first time in the history of daily newspapers in Nagaland we received such orders from a government security force,” Changkija said.

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