Despite the media being classified as essential service during the lockdown, reports have emerged of police officers beating up journalists.

news Coronavirus Thursday, March 26, 2020 - 18:02

Around 10 journalists at Hanuman junction, Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh staged a sit-in protest on the road after they were beaten with lathis by the West Godavari police on Wednesday. Seven reporters allegedly suffered injuries in the attack which took place around 11.30 am. According to the journalists, they went to Hanuman junction (Krishna and West Godavari district border), after receiving information that the West Godavari police were preventing people from entering the district. Due to the presence of the checkpost, which had been put up as part of the state government’s lockdown measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, seven villages in the periphery of West Godavari district were affected, they said.

Speaking to TNM, Chalamashetty Srinivas, a local reporter from Vaartha newspaper said, “We got news that the police had erected a checkpost at Hanuman junction and were preventing people from entering West Godavari district. Many people who had come out to purchase vegetables were blocked by the police and denied entry.”

Srinivas added, “We tried reasoning with the police to allow them and also to move the check post further because it was affecting residents of at least seven villages.” Srinivas alleged that while they were discussing the issue with the Circle Inspector,  the CI asked who they were to question them. “We showed our accreditation cards to prove our credentials as journalists. Meanwhile, the Deputy Superintendent of Police, Dilip Kiran, who was overseeing the arrangements got down from the car and charged at us with a lathi. He attacked us,” Srinivas said.

In protest against the lathi-charge, the journalists staged a sit-in, demanding justice. “Even when we were protesting, the DSP beat us,” Srinivas said.

Subsequently, the journalists escalated the issue, and took it up with the District Superintendent and Minister of Transport and Information and Public Relations Perni Venkataramaiah (Nani). The Minister appealed to the journalists to call off the protest and assured action against the DSP. Following this, the injured journalists sought treatment at a local hospital. “Notwithstanding the Minister's assurance, we will also file a case against the DSP,” Srinivas said.

Another journalist alleged that they were assaulted as vengeance. “Despite showing our ID cards, we were attacked, which means that the DSP attacked us with an ulterior motive. We condemn this and seek action against the erring DSP,” said the journalist. 

Earlier this week, a similar incident took place in Telangana, when several journalists were attacked by the police for “violating the curfew,” despite the fact that print and electronic media are enlisted as ‘essential service’ by the government. The Telangana government had imposed a curfew from 7 pm to 6 am as part of the lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Editors Guild of India, a body of editorial leaders responded towards the attacks on journalists across the country. On Thursday condemning the high handedness of police, the Guild asked the law enforcement agencies to allow the media to do its job. 

"The job of the police is not to impede journalists' work, especially under critical circumstances, but to facilitate their functioning. The State and Union Territory governments and the police also need to be reminded that the media has been exempted as an essential service under the current lockdown guidelines of the Union Home Ministry." said the Guild.