25 February 1998


Journalist beaten and imprisoned

Incident details

Prakash Mahanta



(CPJ/IFEX) - On 7 February 1998, Prakash Mahanta, a reporter for the newly
founded Assamese-language weekly newspaper "Natoon Somoy" (New Times) was
assaulted and detained. His assault is the latest in a series of attacks
against journalists in Assam.

According to CPJ, a group of Assamese police officers known locally as the
"Black Panthers", led by Superintendent of Police Harmit Singh, raided
Mahanta's house in Nagaon, took him into custody and destroyed furnishings
in the residence. The police blindfolded Mahanta and beat him with an iron
stick while shouting, "We'll teach you a lesson for writing against the
Chief Minister and his wife!" The police also assaulted Mahanta's mother
and wife when they tried to intervene. Bleeding severely, Mahanta was taken
to the Nagaon Sadar Police Station . He remains in judicial custody by order
of the Judicial Magistrate of Nagaon on charges believed to be related to
articles he has written recently in "Natoon Samoy." He is in need of
hospitalization for his injuries but has reportedly been denied appropriate
medical treatment.

In a recent article, Mahanta exposed alleged campaign irregularities and
corrupt practices by Dr. Jayashree Goswami Mahanta, the wife of Assam's
Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, who is running for a parliamentary
seat representing Nagaon in the ongoing Indian general elections. For the
past year, Mahanta has regularly reported the misdeeds of local officials,
including Chief Minister Mahanta. The journalist and the chief minister are
not related.

Anytime a journalist is hurt and imprisoned in retaliation for his or her
reporting, it sends a chilling message to the entire profession. CPJ is
concerned that the attack on Mahanta may be part of a sustained offensive
against the press in Assam. On 15 January 1998, four Assam-based
journalists with the national television network, Doordarshan Kendra, were
arrested by local authorities for broadcasting a news item which allegedly
heightened communal tensions in Assam. On 12 January 1998, Assamese police
beat Avirook Sen, the Assam correspondent for "India Today" magazine and his
wife, Suparna Sharma, a reporter for "The Indian Express" newspaper, and
briefly detained the couple. Ajit Bhuyan, the founding editor of "Natoon
Samoy", has been a frequent target of police harassment in Assam, having
been arrested at least four times in 1997 (not previously reported by IFEX).

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • urging them to ensure that the civil rights of Prakash Mahanta are
    respected and that he is released from custody
  • urging them to investigate these incidents and ensure that journalists are
    not subject to official attack or reprisals in the course of doing their job

    Appeals To

    His Excellency Inder Kumar Gujral
    Prime Minister of India
    Office of the Prime Minister
    South Block
    New Delhi 110 001, India
    Fax: +91 11 3016857

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Committee to Protect Journalists
    330 7th Ave., 11th Floor
    New York, NY 10001
    info (@) cpj.org
    Fax:+1 212 4659568

    IFEX members working in this country 1

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