The wrongful arrest of Naveen Soorinje
The Kasturi TV reporter was named in the chargesheet that identified 43 others who attacked a birthday party in Padil. Strangely, Soorinje was amongst the first few to report the assault
In a brazen attack on journalists' freedom in Karnataka, Mangalore police have arrested Naveen Soorinje, a journalist with Kasturi TV, a kannada news channel. The 28-year-old scribe was arrested at 10.30 in the night when he was returning from a reporting assignment.
As absurd as it can get, Naveen was named in the chargesheet that identified 43 others from the Hindu Jagarana Vedike (a right-wing Hindutva group) who attacked a birthday party at a home-stay in Padil on 28 July 2012. The attackers, just like the Shri Rama Sene's pub attack in Mangalore in 2008, beat up and molested young girls stating that they were indulging in a rave party and that it was against Indian culture.
Strangely, the chargesheet of the case names Naveen, amongst the first reporters to have reached the spot of the attack and covered it, with the same charges as those who beat up and molested the girls present there. Naveen is the 44th accused and has been booked under 120 (b); conspiracy, 143; unlawful assembly, 147; rioting, 148; rioting with deadly weapons, 447; criminal trespassing, 325; causing grievous hurt, 354; assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty, 504, 506, 509, 358 to be read with IPC 149, 448, 114, 341, 323, 324. Ironically, the 43 other accused were identified with the help of the footage shot by Naveen's cameraman. Naveen, who had got tipped off by a local source — call records of Naveen from the day available with TEHELKA shows that it was not one of the attackers — turned up at the spot with a cameraman merely to do his job of reporting the incident.
The police had initially charged that Naveen did not inform the police about the attack while he covered. The dubiousness of the charge notwithstanding – the CDR records of Naveen from that day show that he not only made repeated calls to the Mangalore Police Commissioner (who was out of town at the time), as well as Ravish Nayak, inspector of the nearby police station, but never got a call back from the local cop. Little surprise, that it was the same cop who arrested Naveen.
Accustomed to harassment of all kinds, as other reporters in Mangalore testify, Naveen has been an intrepid reporter for a decade. He has been reporting with rigour, the unlawful activities of Sangh Parivar goons, police harassment of Malekudia tribals in the name of Anti-Naxal Operation and the land mafias. Hence, this case hardly intimidated Naveen, who after getting the warrant two weeks earlier had applied for an anticipatory bail, which never came along because of court holidays.
“Last night, after covering a JD(S) rally that Kumaraswamy attended, we were returning when Inspector Ravish Nayak of Kankanady police station stopped us near Padil. They claimed it was a police check but the personnel left soon after taking Naveen into custody,” says Shiva, cameraman with the same channel Naveen works for. “They took him to a magistrate and was sent to Mangalore Sub-jail within 20 minutes, which gave us no time to react,” he added.
Curiously, the arrest came right after JD(S) Kumaraswamy's provocative statement in his speech that he would have the mighty RSS leader Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat. Reporters who have faced harassment in the hands of the local administration and Sangh Parivar goons are convinced that Naveen's arrest was a simple case of political vendetta as Kasturi channel (where Naveen works) is owned by none other than Kumaraswamy.
Vendetta or not, the arrest of Naveen only goes on to further assert the idea that Karnataka is being run by a communal and an authoritarian regime that has no respect for freedom of expression or other basic rights.
G Vishnu is a Correspondent with Tehelka.