A mission for press freedom

Published : Jun 22, 2002 00:00 IST

Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna responds positively to a media delegation's representation against the denial of human rights and suppression of press freedom in a case involving a Tamil journalist.

THERE has been positive movement forward in l'affaire Nakkheeran with Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna promising a delegation of journalists on June 13 that he would "stand by the assurances" given by the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments to the Nakkheeran team when it went into the forests to rescue Kannada film actor Rajkumar from Veerappan in October 2000. The delegation from Chennai, led by N. Ram, Editor, Frontline, made another gain when Krishna asked his Director-General of Police (Corps of Detectives) to investigate the allegations of torture of Nakkheeran reporter P. Sivasubramaniam by the Karnataka police, violation of the due process of law and human rights in his arrest and incarceration and denial of freedom of speech to him. According to the delegation, the DGP was also asked to inquire into the allegations regarding "the false cases filed" by the Karnataka police on the basis of "trumped-up charges" against Sivasubramaniam.

Addressing a press conference in Chennai on June 14, Ram described the meeting as a positive development in the battle for the release of Sivasubramaniam. "We appreciate the courtesy with which he (Krishna) received the delegation. We are reasonably satisfied with the outcome but we cannot be complacent" because there was work to be done in Tamil Nadu too, he said. The delegation plans to seek an appointment with Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa.

The eight-member delegation of editors and journalists representing the Press Freedom Protection Committee presented a memorandum, which contained the following specific demands: All false cases based on trumped-up charges filed against Sivasubramaniam should be withdrawn immediately; third-degree methods should not be used during interrogation, and all harassment by way of prosecution based on trumped-up charges against Sivasubramaniam should be stopped; no case based on trumped up charges should be filed against Nakkheeran Gopal (the editor of the Tamil biweekly) and his team; the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments should honour scrupulously the written assurances given to the Nakkheeran team by the Home Secretaries of the two States on October 9, 2000; and all kinds of harassment, direct or indirect, against Nakkheeran should be stopped.

When the delegation told Krishna that the abduction and arrest of Sivasubraman-iam by the Karnataka police was "a breach of political trust" in view of the written assurances given by the Home Secretaries, the Chief Minister said: "We stand by the assurances." Ram said: "We appreciate his reiteration of the commitment."

The day after the delegation met Krishna, the Karnataka government transferred the State STF chief Kempiah and posted him as Inspector-General and Joint-Commandant General, Home Guards, and Joint-Director, Civil Defence and Fire Force. Nakkheeran Gopal termed Kempiah's transfer a "big victory for the delegation and the freedom of the press".

SIVASUBRAMANIAM played a significant role along with Gopal in the rescue in July 1997 of nine Karnataka forest personnel and Rajkumar who were abducted by Veerappan, a sandalwood smuggler and elephant poacher who had committed a series of murders. When the two State governments sent Gopal and Sivasubramaniam as their official emissaries to Veerappan to negotiate the release of Rajkumar, the two Home Secretaries assured them that "no criminal prosecution will be set in motion against Nakkheeran Gopal and his associates on any future date in respect of any of their activity during this mission"; that they will be given "immunity against penal provisions if any of their activity is secretive or contrary to the obligations under law"; and that they would not be summoned to give evidence "in respect of any of the occurrence during this mission."

Sivasubramaniam was "abducted" by the Karnataka police from near his home in November 2001, and the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu police subsequently filed seven cases against him. In one of these, the Rajkumar abduction case, the Tamil Nadu police made both Gopal and Sivasubramaniam the accused.

The journalists' memorandum said: "The delegation cannot help remarking that the reward for this special help rendered by Sivasubramaniam and Gopal seems to be torture, incarceration, humiliation, prosecution and harassment at the hands of the police... Sivasubramaniam is now languishing in prison after going through a harrowing experience, lasting over seven months, of unlawful imprisonment, torture (both physical and mental), threats to life and limbs, vindictive humiliation, and denial of his freedom of speech and expression. We request you to have this matter inquired into or investigated fairly and put a speedy end to Sivasubramaniam's agonising travails and the violations of the procedure established by law in this case."

The delegation pointed out to Krishna that in a case filed under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, or TADA, relating to the killing of 22 policemen in a mine blast in the jungle in mid-1993, Sivasubramaniam and Gopal gave evidence before a court in Mysore. Based on their evidence, many were acquitted and some convicted. The Karnataka police has now reopened the old case and made Sivasubramaniam an additional accused, giving a Special Case under a TADA provision, "thus creating a serious anomaly in criminal proceedings."

Maalan V. Narayanan, Editor, Sun News, and K. Rajendran, Managing Director and Publisher, Kalki group of publications, explained to Krishna how there was a pattern in the filing of a new case against Sivasubramaniam no sooner than he got bail in a case. R. Bhagwan Singh, Convener, Journalists' Action Group, told the Chief Minister that there were reasons for the Special Task Forces' animosity to the magazine. These were: problems between Nakkheeran and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu; between Nakkheeran and a former chief of the Tamil Nadu STF; and between Nakkheeran and the Karnataka STF.

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