WASHINGTON DC, July 27, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Indian Officials Harassing South Asia Tribune New Delhi Correspondent

Special SAT Report

WASHINGTON, July 27: Indian intelligence agencies are harassing Arun Rajnath (Left) , the Special Correspondent of South Asia Tribune in New Delhi after failing to persuade him to stop writing what these agencies describe as stories against the national security of India.

Rajnath, who has been reporting for the SAT for almost two years has also been refused accreditation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs because MEA officials say he writes against their advice and against the national interest.

The harassment of Rajnath in New Delhi comes shortly after Pakistan Government had placed the South Asia Tribune Editor, Shaheen Sehbai, on the infamous Exit Control List which prohibits Pakistani citizens to leave the country. Sehbai is in Washington but if he enters Pakistan, he will not be allowed to leave the country.

Arun Rajnath reported the harassment he was facing to the Editor of his newspaper in Washington after intimidating telephone calls from intelligence operatives became so frequent they became a nuisance.

SAT Editor Shaheen Sehbai strongly condemned the harassment and in a statement said it was even more deplorable as India claimed to be a democratic country where the Press was supposed to be totally free.

Sehbai urged all the international media watchdog organizations to take immediate note of the harassment of Rajnath as well as denial of accreditation because it exposed the real situation in which no journalist could report objectively without facing the wrath of the Indian Establishment.

Arun Rajnath has been receiving crank calls and threatening E-mails by a person who calls himself Asif Nadeem. This person claims to be from a security agency. When Rajnath refused to concede his demands to propagate Government’s views in the South Asia Tribune, he was threatened to face the consequences.

On the other hand, the Publicity Division of the Ministry of External Affairs has directed the Press Information Bureau not to issue a Press-accreditation to Arun Rajnath, as it was not in the national interest of India.

According to Rajnath, the person who identifies himself as Asif Nadeem first called him up on his home telephone number on the morning of June 21, 2005, and claimed to be speaking from the Media Cell of the Home Ministry. Nadeem said that he wanted to see Rajnath.

Arun invited him to a crowded Coffee Shop in Cannaught Place, the heart of Delhi. Asif Nadeem came wearing the dark blue shirt and off-white pants which he had said he would be wearing for identification.

Nadeem first tried to bribe Rajnath and offered to pay Rs10,000 per month for writing one story per month against Pakistan or Bangladesh or Nepal or Hurriyat Conference or Naxalites or any one else suggested by the security agencies.

Nadeem claimed that many top journalists covering External, Home and Defense Ministries were on the payroll of security agencies or the concerned ministries and they received handsome compensation packages which Arun could also get after proving his worth.

He also promised that he would help Rajnath in getting clearances for his press accreditation card and would get his name included in the list of journalists who always accompany the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on their international tours.

Nadeem asked Arun not to write ‘damaging stories’ on the Defense sector and Kashmir that ‘tarnish’ the image of India at international forums. He had a complete list with him on Arun’s defense stories that he claimed were ‘objectionable’ and ‘anti-national’ from the administration’s point of view.

Asif had grievous objections particularly to the following three stories:

1. “India Sending Thousands of Commandos to Kashmir in Changed Strategy” published on November 18, 2004,

2. “Indian Army Faces Embarrassment After Fake Militants Surrender Scam”, published on December 05, 2004, and

3. “The Blatant Kashmir Discrimination Against Militants’ Widows”, published on January 02, 2005.

He told Rajnath: “Though these stories may be true, when they are published in the international media, they cause ripples and tarnish the image of India. Such is the impact of the international media, particularly web newspapers. You should be cautious in your approach. We will pay you for your assistance. We can also pay you for not writing such stories if you do not agree to propagate our viewpoint. Why don’t you write only political stories?”

Arun Rajnath firmly but politely declined all the offers and urged Nadeem not to contact him again as he was not interested in his proposals. Nadeem was quiet for a time but the situation took an ugly turn when the following two stories were published in the SAT:

1. “Tamil Tigers Training Nepalese Rebels: An Interview Revealing All”, published on July 8, 2005, and

2. “Maoist Working Hard to Carve Out Their Own Country”, published on July 24, 2005.

Nadeem started calling Rajnath desperately and repeatedly asked him to disclose the source of his story about the Maoists. He also threatened him to either work for the security agencies, like other journalists and pass on the information to the agencies, or be ready to face the consequences.

These phone calls were made from the numbers 9868303885, 9891367900 and 26687984. In one such conversation Nadeem said: “Mr. Arun you would have been arrested by now had the POTA not been abolished. But it does not mean that you are free to write anti-national stories in a Pakistani newspaper.”

It is noteworthy that the Vajpayee government had imposed the infamous Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) in which there has been a provision that the journalists could be detained if they had any prior information of any act of terrorism or terrorist organizations. Journalists had to intimate the security agencies about their sources. But due to the pressure from the Left parties, the act has been abolished.

While the intelligence agencies are harassing Rajnath, his application for Press accreditation has been pending for months as the Foreign Ministry officials think Rajnath had exposed the Indian policy on Nepal for what it was worth.

The officials of the Foreign Ministry have declared him “dangerous for national security” and “he must not get the press accreditation as he would get access to all ministries including Defense, Foreign and Home, Prime Minister’s Office and other sensitive departments.”

The Police Verification conducted by the Press Information Bureau following Rajnath’s application for a Press card has been clean and the file of accreditation has been sent to the Press Relations, Publicity Division, Ministry of External Affairs for its comments and recommendations because Arun Rajnath works for a foreign newspaper.

Despite fulfilling all conditions and a positive report from the local police, Arun’s file was not put up before the Accreditation Committee in June, because the MEA had not returned the file by then. In February this year the Foreign Ministry had issued a special statement against Rajnath in a bid to discredit him and his reports. Click to View MEA Statement

After darting off many letters and reminders to the Principal Information Officer, Press Information Bureau (PIB), Arun received a letter from Anupma V. Chandra, Information Officer (Press Facility) dated July 18, 2005 (No. F. 1/7208-PRS) in which she admitted: “Your case is pending for want of comments/recommendations from Ministry of External Affairs on the status of South Asia Tribune, USA. Min. of External Affairs was requested for comments vide this Bureau’s letter dated 14.3.2005 and a reminder dated 11.5.2005. Another reminder is also being sent.”

The PIB sent the letter to Ishwar Prasad Teki, Publicity Officer, Press Relations, Ministry of External Affairs for comments. This department comes under direct control of the Joint Secretary, External Publicity Division, MEA. Navtej Sarna is the boss who happens to be the Joint Secretary and Official Spokesperson, as well.

As a matter of fact, the Publicity Division has directed Ishwar Prasad Teki not to clear the file. At present the MEA is not getting any concrete ground to reject the file, therefore the officials are holding it without taking any decision. They want to delay the process as the Accreditation Committee of the PIB meets only twice in the year to consider the cases of accreditation. It had already met in the month of June, and it would now meet in December.

According to the sources of the PIB and Foreign Ministry, the Publicity Division (MEA) and Home Ministry have already sounded the authorities of the PIB not to give accreditation to Arun Rajnath because “he works for a Pakistani newspaper, and his write-ups are irresponsible and not in the line of national interest.”

“He could be dangerous to the national security if he gets accreditation as then he would be entitled to visit all ministries, government offices, sensitive places, Prime Minister’s Office, President House, etc.”

Rajnath’s battle to receive fair treatment continues.

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