The movement seeking the release of jailed Kasturi Newz24 reporter Naveen Soorinje gathered pace on Saturday with simultaneous agitations held here and in Mysore.
The three-day hunger strike, which started here on Saturday, was supported by dozens of journalists and senior editors from a cross-section of print and electronic media outlets.
In an unexpected development, activists belonging to various human rights and progressive organisations also turned up at the venue to express their solidarity with the cause.
Gangadhar Mudaliar, president of the Karnataka Union of Working Journalists, said the stir is set to intensify over the next few days. “We have instructed all district and taluka-level journalists’ bodies to launch similar agitations,” he said.
Mr. Soorinje covering Mangalore district for the channel, was instrumental in exposing the July 28 attack by activists of the Hindu Jagarana Vedike on a group of innocent boys and girls who were celebrating a birthday party at a homestay in Mangalore. He was arrested on November 7 by the Mangalore police on charges ranging from “rioting with deadly weapons,” criminal conspiracy, unlawful assembly, and using criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty. The police also invoked Sections 3 and 4 of The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986.
Those present unanimously backed the view that the charges slapped against Mr. Soorinje were a blatant attempt to muzzle the press. They also held that Mr. Soorinje should have been listed as a witness in the case and not an accused as it was his team’s footage that had helped the police identify and nab the culprits.
Speaking on behalf of the agitating journalists, editor of Public TV H.R. Ranganath said: “Through this arrest, the State government is sending a message to the journalist fraternity that they will be punished for anti-establishment reportage.”
Ananth Chinivar, editor of Janashree TV said: “It is becoming extremely difficult for journalists to function independently and fearlessly in Karnataka. This [Mr. Soorinje’s arrest] has set a worrisome precedent.”
TV9 political editor Lakshman Hoogar said: “Through his reportage Mr. Soorinje exposed the right-wing extremism that has taken strong root in coastal Karnataka. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-backed groups, such as the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu Jagarana Vedike, are running amok there unchecked by the police as well as sections of the media. Mr. Soorinje is being punished for carrying critical reports on these groups.” Ranganath Bhardwaj, from Suvarna News 24x7, and Badruddin K. Mani, from Kasturi Newz24, were also present.
Subhash Rai, senior web editor, Economic and Political Weekly, said this is a case where even journalists have been forced to submit to the government’s will. “If the government can demonstrate such impunity towards the journalists, it is unimaginable what they will do to the public,” he added.
Subir Ghosh, resident editor of DNA, said: “The state of free speech and expression in Karnataka has degenerated from being unfortunate to downright sorry.”
V. Sridhar, deputy editor of The Hindu, said: “If one cherishes free press, this is a case that is as fundamental as it gets. A journalist was penalised for performing his duty. I am here to show solidarity with him.”