The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns police raids on the homes of Hyderabad-based journalists KV Kurmanath and Kranti Tekula, and calls on authorities to immediately return their electronic devices, which include reporting material.
On 28 August, police from the city of Pune in Maharashta state, the site of the forthcoming PEN International annual congress, conducted raids on the homes of eight activists across India as well as on the homes of the two journalists. The raids were in relation to a police investigation into caste-related violence that took place at Bhima Koregaon near Pune on January 1, according to Indian news website Scroll.in.
"The indiscriminate seizure by police of electronics with notes and recordings of journalists KV Kurmanath and Kranti Tukula amounts to a serious assault on freedom of the press," said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia program coordinator, in Washington, DC. "These devices should be returned immediately intact."
In an interview with CPJ, Kurmanath said the police arrived at his home in the city of Hyderabad in Telangana state with a warrant in Marathi, a language of the neighboring state of Maharashtra that he does not understand. He later found out through a Marathi friend that the warrant had incorrectly listed his address as one of the residences of his father-in-law, poet-activist Varavara Rao, who was arrested later that day on charges of plotting a Maoist conspiracy to overthrow the Indian government. "The police started raiding his home at 6 a.m. and then came to mine three hours later with a separate warrant under the same pretext," he said. CPJ has seen a copy of the search warrant, which says information about Rao's alleged plot could also be found at Kurmanath's home.
In the seven-hour long raid, Pune police seized Kurmanath's phone and computer hard disk and pressured him into handing over the passwords to his Gmail and Facebook accounts, he said. Kurmanath, who has been a journalist for 24 years with four major newspapers including the Indian Express and the Hindu Business Line, said he had at least 15 interviews recorded on his phone for news stories he was pursuing. "I requested them to allow me to make a copy but they refused," he said. Kurmanath also said that he missed two assignments that day. "When I wanted to inform the office about my inability to over the events, the police refused permission," he said.
Assistant Commissioner of Police of Pune Shivaji Pawar, who issued the warrant, told CPJ that police had information that Rao has been working out of three houses, including Kurmanath's, to plot the alleged conspiracy. "If we do not find anything, we will return his devices," he said.
Pune police also took away Tekula's phone, laptop, and passwords to his email account, according to a report in the New Indian Express and statement issued by him, which CPJ has seen. He is currently employed as a sub editor with Telugu-language newspaper Namasthe Telangana, according to his statement. CPJ's efforts to reach Tekula through several acquaintances were unsuccessful.
IMAGE: Indian police detain a protester demonstrating against the arrest of activists in Hyderabad, India, on August 29, 2018. (AP/Mahesh Kumar A.)