Television journalist Naveen Soorinje, who was arrested on November 7, 2012 after exposing a shocking incident of moral policing in which members of far right-wing organization Hindu Jagaran Vedike assaulted a group of young men and women in Mangalore, India, was finally granted bail yesterday by the Karnataka High Court.
This welcome move comes after over four months of active campaigning by the journalist fraternity, civil groups and activists, who saw the arrest as an intimidation tactic by the police and the State government to muzzle not only the news about the incident but also the freedom of the media.
On July 28, 2012, Naveen Soorinje, a TV reporter for a local Kannada channel, Kasturi TV, was tipped off about an impending attack on a group of young men and women who were partying at a homestay in Mangalore and rushed to the location with his cameraman. According to his statement, the place was peaceful when he reached, with no attackers in sight outside the homestay and so he was in a dilemma whether it was a case of false alarm.
Soon however, over 30 attackers appeared on the scene and according to Soorinje's first person account of the attack, he tried contacting the police at that point of time but his calls went unanswered. Soorinje and his cameraman then filmed the attack, which was later shown across local as well as national channels, thereby drawing the nation's attention to the shocking incident.
Funnily enough, while many of the attackers were picked up from Soorinje's video evidence of the incident, on November 7th, 2012, he himself was arrested by the police and charged as being a co-conspirator in the case. He was booked under multiple sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) including criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, criminal trespassing, rioting with deadly weapons, using criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty as well as sections of Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act.
It was also alleged that filming the incident and showing it across TV channels had done greater damage to the victims than the attacks/ assaults per se.
On his part, Soorinje denied the charges and said that he was only doing his duty. In his first person account, the English version of which was published in The Hoot, he wrote:
The incident we have reported is shameful, not the visuals we have shown. The 28 July incident at Mangalore is neither a stray incident nor is such an attack in Mangalore a new phenomenon. Every week such incidents take place. Fundamentalists not only attack boys and girls mixing with the boys and girls of another religion but also take them to the police station. This incident would have taken place even if I had not shot it. Our recording has revealed the inhuman face of the fascists and has led to the arrest of eight attackers. No matter what is said and what cases are booked against me, I believe I have done my duty as a reporter and that is the only satisfaction to my hurt self.
Supporting his stance that he had committed no crime and was merely doing his duty as a reporter in recording (and exposing) the incident, the journalist fraternity, civil society groups, rights activists and netizens have since then been agitating against the administration's ‘shoot the messenger‘ policy, petitioning for his release and demanding the withdrawal of all cases against him.
In December, his bail plea was rejected and the police went on an offensive, arresting another journalist who was also present at the time of the attack. However, the agitations and protests continued to gather speed and finally the government offered to drop charges against Soorinje. The current news of bail being given to Soorinje comes as a welcome news and the reporter himself has said that he feels ‘vindicated'.
Twitter was abuzz with the news, with people expressing happiness and relief at the news of Soorinje getting bail.
Geeta Seshu (@geetaseshu): Heartening news- mangalore scribe naveen soorinje granted bail by justice shridhar rao of the karnataka high court.
Dhanya Rajendran (@dhanyarajendran): HC grants bail to journalist Naveen Soorinje! Naveen is blessed to have some friends who fought tooth n nail for him
However, the fight is far from over and some see this as a first step in the larger call to ensure that the members of the media are not intimidated and that freedom of the media is upheld.
G. Vishnu (@geevishnu): Naveen Soorinje has been granted bail!!! Finally. And somehow…. It's almost as though the fight has just begun.