While the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet has refused to take up a proposal by a state minister to initiate legal action against news reported with “mala fide intentions”, leaders of the ruling YSR Congress Party have been accused of unleashing attacks on mediapersons who are seen to be critical of them, or of the state government.
The latest — and most serious — of these attacks took place on October 15, when a reporter of Andhra Jyothi newspaper was hacked to death while on his way home in the evening. Three days later, police registered an FIR against YSRCP MLA and party Chief Whip in the Assembly, Ramalingeshwara Rao Dadisetti, in the journalist’s killing.
The day after the reporter’s murder, state Information and Public Relations Minister Perni Venkataramaiah submitted a proposal to empower “departmental secretaries having wherewithal to judge whether the news is true or false to file cases against defamatory content appearing in print, electronic and social media”.
The proposal was to implement a government order (GO) issued in 2007, when Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was chief minister of undivided Andhra Pradesh. However, the Cabinet did not take up Venkataramaiah’s suggestion, and a CMO official said that Chief Minister Y S Jaganmohan Reddy had “made it clear that AP Government has no intention of harassing journalists or reporters”.
Beginning August this year, YSRCP MLAs have been named by victims in at least four attacks.
October 18: FIR No. 288/2019 registered at Tuni Rural police station in East Godavari district stated that Katha Satyanarayana, who had been working as a reporter with Andhra Jyothi for the previous 20 years and was a sympathizer of the TDP, had been ambushed by at least five men at S Annavaram village around 6.30 pm on October 15, while he was on his way home on his motorcycle. The complaint was filed by the brother of Satyanarayana, K Gopalakrishna.
“Complainant allegedly suspecting that 1) Gabu Rajubabu, 2) Muralasetti Naga Venkata Ramana, 3) Makineedi Bujji, 4) Pedirredla Suresh and 5) Gabu Ganesh might have committed murder of his brother with the support of MLA Dadisetti Raja,’’ the FIR said. “Raja” is Ramalingeshwara Rao Dadisetti, the YSRCP MLA from Tuni.
According to Gopalakrishna, Ramalingeshwara Rao had threatened his brother Satyanarayana on several occasions for writing against his (the MLA’s) highhanded behaviour and tendency to intimidate people. “He threatened to physically harm him several times. My brother had informed police also that his life was in danger,” Gopalakrishna said.
MLA Ramalingeshwara Rao said he did not know the five men accused of the murder in the FIR. “I had no enmity with the journalist. My name has been unnecessarily drawn into this case although I have done no wrong. It is due to media pressure that police is investigating me,” he said.
After the FIR was registered, I&PR Minister Venkataramaiah said that if YSRCP MLAs were involved, they would face the law. “The YSRCP condemns attacks on anyone by party members. Action will be taken if anyone is found to be involved,” he said. September 23: FIR No. 133/2019 registered at Chinnaganjam in Prakasam district on September 23 recorded a murderous assault on Naidu Nagarjuna Reddy, a reporter with the Telugu daily Surya by a large gang of more than 25 people in the presence of a YSRCP leader.
The FIR stated: “Amanchi Rajendra, Sadineni Rambabu, Bandu and 23 others came in two vehicles, formed themselves into an unlawful assembly, armed with deadly weapons, obstructed Naidu Nagarjuna Reddy, Surya reporter at Chirala town, and his friend Anthe Krishna, who were proceeding to Vetapalem on their motorcycle after submitting a memorandum to the Superintendent of Police, Prakasam District in Spandana Program, took away Naidu Nagarjuna Reddy into nearby aqua ponds where Amanchi Swamulu or Amanchi Krishna Mohan is present, and stabbed him with a knife and beat him with iron rods severely with intent to do away his life as a result he sustained bleeding injuries and fell into unconscious and later all the accused went away.”
Amanchi Krishna Mohan is a former TDP MLA who is now with the YSRCP. Mohan declined to comment.
Nagarjuna Reddy suffered five fractures and seven stab wounds. “Although I have highlighted and exposed former MLA Amanchi Krishna Mohan for his involvement in land-grabbing, sand mafia, and intimidation many times before, this attack was provoked because I helped a 10-year-old girl write a letter to the CM against Amanchi,” he said.
“The girl’s grandfather K Venkateshwarlu wanted to contest the panchayat election but Amanchi was against it and he enforced a boycott of the family in the village. His followers attacked the family, looted fishing nets and other things from their house in Ramachandrapuram. The girl and her two brothers are not allowed to go to school, and due to pressure from Amanchi no one in the village speaks to, or plays with them... I told the girl to write to the CM and officials explaining how she misses school and play and the harassment that the family is undergoing. This letter and my own complaints have put Amanchi in a spot with his ruling party and that is why he arranged this murderous attack on me. They left me for dead but I survived miraculously,” Reddy said.
August 25: FIR No. 202/2019 registered at Rayadurg police station in Anantapur district stated that in the afternoon of August 25, Avula Manohar, a reporter with the Telugu language channel Maha News, was attacked by unidentified persons near Stone Valley School in Rayadurg town.
“Some unknown persons stopped him and beat with hands, legs and stones and snatched two cell phones and one camera. As a result he sustained bleeding injury on his head and swelling injuries over his body. On oral statement of the complainant in the case was registered,” the FIR stated.
Avula Manohar alleged he was attacked by the henchmen of Rayadurg YSRCP MLA Kapu Ramachandra Reddy, and that police had refused to name the MLA in the FIR.
“I have been doing reports against Reddy exposing his involvement in sand mafia, shady real estate deals and high-handed behaviour. In spite of telling police, they have not included his name in the FIR. No arrests have been made although police have identified the culprits behind this attack, and they have not called me for identification,” Manohar said.
MLA Reddy said he was surprised to hear the allegation against him. “I am not aware who the journalist is and what transpired, and I have nothing to do with it (the incident),” he said.
August 12: FIR No. 211/2019 filed at Dargamitta police station in Nellore City stated that on August 11, Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy, MLA from the Nellore Rural constituency, and his followers, Vishnu, Murali Krishna Yadav, and Suresh, criminally trespassed into the house of the complainant N Dolendra Prasad, the editor of Zaminryot Telugu weekly, “with a view to kill him with sharp weapons and dragged him from his house and also assaulted him, criminally intimidated him and attempted to murder him with a sharp weapon”.
The MLA and his supporters left after neighbours intervened, the FIR said. “The motive for this incident is that the complainant published a news article in his weekly against Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy, MLA Nellore Rural Constituency,” the FIR said.
Reddy denied that he threatened or assaulted Prasad. “I merely went to his house to inquire about the article he had written, and tried to convey the facts. He lodged a false complaint against me,” the MLA said.
A reporter from ABN Andhra Jyothi, whose journalists are often the target of YSRCP leaders, said: “Threats of physical assault and intimidation from YSRCP leaders have been common ever since the party came to power. If you write or air anything criticising them or exposing their corruption, they target you. Many journalists have not gone to the police out of fear,” said the reporter, who declined to be identified.
M Koteshwara Rao, president of the All India Working Journalists’ Association, said the media in AP was working in an atmosphere of fear. “If a journalist makes a mistake, the politicians can lodge a police complaint or file a court case. But the YSRCP leaders seem to think that attacking or murdering them is the answer. We have requested the government to inquire into all the cases of assaults on mediapersons, and bring the accused to justice in a week, or we will be forced to hold protests, rasta roko and dharnas,” Rao said.
In a letter written recently to state DGP Gautam Sawang, former CM N Chandrababu Naidu said: “The ruling party leaders are threatening and attacking journalists of print and electronic media. It is creating a law and order issue by supporting anti-social elements and scuttling the freedom of speech and expression... It is detrimental to the functioning of democracy.”