Journalists harassed, obstructed while covering home demolitions in Haryana’s Khori Gaon

A police officer covers a Newsclick reporter’s camera at a demolition site in Khori Gaon, India. Police have obstructed and harassed several journalists covering the demolitions and protests. (Photo: Sumedha Pal)

Global press freedom watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Haryana authorities to cease harassing and obstructing members of the press covering protests and demolitions in Khori Gaon in Haryana, and ensure that they can report freely.

On June 30, and then repeatedly in mid-July, Haryana police have threatened, harassed, and obstructed journalists covering protests and demolitions in the village of Khori Gaon, in the Faridabad district.

On July 14 state government authorities began demolishing homes that were allegedly built illegally in Khori Gaon, and police have arrested local residents opposed to the demolitions.

“Journalists have a right to cover the ongoing demolitions in the Indian village of Khori Gaon without facing threats, harassment, and intimidation for their work,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy executive director.

“Authorities must ensure that the media can report freely on the demolitions and all matters of public interest without fear of violence or arrest,” he said.

On June 30, multiple police officers repeatedly and aggressively told Sumedha Pal, a reporter at the news website Newsclick, to stop filming a group of villagers who gathered to share testimonies about the planned demolitions with the media.

A senior police officer ordered another officer to confiscate Pal’s phone while she filmed police attacking the demonstrators with batons. When an officer attempted to grab her phone, Pal stopped filming and fled the scene, she said.

On July 15, police again repeatedly told Pal to stop filming at a protest site in the village. A police officer attempted to block her camera as she filmed, as seen in a video she posted to Twitter that day.

Also that day, police forced Mohit Kumar, a Newsclick camera operator, to leave a crowd of protesters and move to another location, placed a baton between his feet to stop him from moving, and threatened him, saying, “we can do anything to you,” according to Kumar, who spoke to CPJ. Police then told him to leave the area, and he complied, Kumar said.

Also that day, two police officers armed with batons approached Hrishikesh Sharma, a reporter at the YouTube-based news channel Mojo Story, while he was filming a home that was about to be demolished, and threatened to break his phone if he did not stop filming and leave the area. Sharma continued to discretely film in another area, he said.

Multiple police officers threatened to break the camera of Prabhat Kumar, a freelance journalist who filmed demolitions in the area. Kumar said that an officer threatened to arrest him if he did not stop filming. Police also locked Kumar in a building after he had ascended to a terrace to film a protest, he said, adding that local residents opened the door and allowed him to leave about 15 minutes later.

On July 16, police officers armed with guns and batons threatened to arrest Naomi Barton, an audience editor with the news website The Wire who was reporting on the demolitions, if she did not stop filming at a demolition site. Barton showed officers her press identification card but they insisted she leave the area, and she complied, she said.

Also that day, an unidentified individual in plain clothes approached Nikita Jain, a freelance journalist, and told her not to take pictures at a demolition site, and threatened to inform the police if she did not stop, she said.

A group of about 10 police officers surrounded Jain as she attempted to leave the village, and a senior officer told her that press coverage was prohibited in the area, she said. When Jain asked that officer to show her an official order prohibiting coverage, he refused and instructed Jain to show him her phone and delete its footage, she said, adding that she refused to comply.

That officer then instructed a group of female officers to escort Jain to another area, and told them to beat her if she resisted; the officers pushed Jain to another area, where a police officer threatened to break her phone and others ordered her to enter their car, she said. Jain said that she refused to comply and left the village on her own.

On 18 July, two police officers approached Sumit Yadav, an independent journalist who operates The Tsunami, a YouTube political news channel that has covered the demolitions, while he was interviewing local residents, escorted him out of the area, forcibly confiscated his phone, and deleted footage he had taken. They also threatened to investigate him for attempted murder in retaliation for his coverage, he said.

CPJ said that they emailed Faridabad Police Commissioner O.P. Singh for comment, but did not receive any reply.