New Delhi, February 11, 2019 — Indian authorities should drop their criminal investigation into journalist Mohammed Mubashiruddin Khurram and allow reporters to cover protests without fear of arrest or detention, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On February 8, two plainclothes police officers in the Mallepally area of Hyderabad, in the southern Indian state of Telangana, arrested Khurram, a reporter with the local Urdu-language newspaper The Siasat Daily, while he was covering a protest against the newly enacted Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens that demonstrators allege discriminate against Muslims in the country, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.
Police held Khurram for more than 15 hours, questioned him about his alleged ties to the protests, and released him after opening an investigation into five criminal allegations against him, he said. If charged and convicted, Khurram could face up to two years in prison for rioting, the most serious charge among those allegations, according to the Indian penal code.
“The protests taking place across India are of national importance and journalists must be able to cover them freely,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, from New York. “Hyderabad police never should have detained journalist Mohammed Mubashiruddin Khurram, who was simply doing his job, and should drop their investigation against him.”
In a police document reviewed by CPJ, authorities accused Khurram of violating criminal statues on rioting, wrongful restraint, assault to deter a public servant from discharging their duty, disobedience of an order by a public servant, being a member of an unlawful assembly, and destroying public property.
Hyderabad Police Task Force Inspector B. Gattu Mallu told CPJ in a phone interview that police “did not target [Khurram] because he is a journalist” and said that officers arrested him pursuant to a complaint previously filed by police. The complaint, which CPJ reviewed, accused Khurram of creating “law and order problems” but did not make any specific allegations. Mallu refused to elaborate further on Khurram’s case.
Following his arrest, police officers denied Khurram access to a lawyer or a phone call to his family, he said. He told CPJ that he was held for the night and was questioned by Deputy Commissioner of Police Radha Krishan Rao in the morning of February 9.
Rao accused Khurram of organizing the protests and questioned him about his tweets concerning the demonstrations and his alleged ties with Chandrashekhar Azad, one of the protest organizers, Khurram said.
Khurram told CPJ that he was not involved in organizing the protests, and that he only met Azad to interview him. He said he was only ever present at the protests to do his job as a journalist.
Khurram said Rao attempted to recruit him as a government informant, but Khurram said he refused. Following questioning, Khurram was released around 1:30 p.m. on February 9, he said.
Rao did not respond to a text message and phone call from CPJ seeking comment.
CPJ has documented a number of attacks against journalists covering protests across the country since December 2019.