The Press Council of India’s letter to the Andhra Pradesh government in the first week of November expressing concern about an order that allows the secretaries of all department to file defamation cases against journalists was an indication of the intense pressure faced by the state’s media. The letter has also served to draw attention to more direct, brutal attacks on journalists in the state. Over the past five months, there have been four attacks on journalists, one of whom died after an assault.

In all the cases, the attackers are alleged to have links with MLAs of the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress or YSRC, led by YS Jaganmohan Reddy. In three cases, the journalists had filed written complaints about the threats they had received but the police failed to protect them.

K Satyanarayana, Andhra Jyothy newspaper

“Had the police taken action, my brother could have been alive,” said Gopalakrishnan, whose brother K Satyanarayana was bludgeoned to death 100 metres away from his home in Tuni town in East Godavari district on October 15.

This was not the first attack faced by Satyanarayana, a stringer for Andhra Jyothy newspaper. A month before he was murdered, Satyanarayana had escaped an attempted assault on him. After he complained to the police, an FIR was lodged on September 10 against two people. One of them was Gabu Raju, a close aide of YSRC MLA Ramalingeswara Rao Dadisetti Raja of Tuni constituency. The other was unknown.

Satyanarayana was Andhra Jyothy’s urban reporter for the Thondangi mandal or block, which is part of Tuni assembly constituency. Raja, the Tuni MLA, has represented the constituency since 2014, when he wrested it from Yanamala Rama Krishnudu of the Telugu Desam Party.

Krishnudu had been in the seat since 1984.

Gopalakrishnan acknowledged that his brother Satyanarayana was a “sympathiser” of the Telugu Desam Party. This fact is even recorded in the FIR about the September attack on him. When the YSRC came to power in 2014, Satyanarayana began to feel the pressure, said his brother.

In fact, alleged Gopalakrishnan, the YSRC MLA Raja had threatened Satyanarayana and other reporters on May 23 , the day Raja was declared the winner of Tuni constituency. This was confirmed by Andhra Jyothy Tuni Rural reporter, Venkataraman. “Most town reporters who were present at the counting centre were warned by the winning MLA to watch the kind of stories they reported about him,” he said.

For 14 years, Satyanarayana had worked as a staff reporter for Tuni constituency and had reported several stories about allegations related to Raja’s involvement in illegal sand mining and land deals, among other things, said his colleague Venkataraman. However, in May 2016, he was transferred to Thondangi. Appa Rao, who heads the newspaper’s bureau in Kakinada, denied that this had been done under political pressure.

K Satyanarayana worked for Andhra Jyothy newspaper.

According to reports published by the Association for Democratic Reform, Raja has 15 FIRs against him. The cases involve 22 serious offences, including attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and extortion.

As is the practice with many stringers who do not receive monthly salaries but are paid per article, Satyanarayana also engaged in other activities to supplement his meager income – he acted as a money lender. His collague Venkataraman says that although Satanaryana may have had some disputes related to this, he is certain that the attack is not related to any financial dispute as the police have claimed.

On October 29, the police arrested six people for the murder, exonerating the MLA and the aide accused in the FIR. They claimed that the journalist had resorted to blackmail and intimidation.

Gopalakrishnan is upset at the manner in which brother’s work is being questioned after his death. “The six might have been involved in the murder, but the police is ignoring the motive behind the murder and the person behind the murder, who is the sitting MLA, Dadisetti Raja,” alleged Gopalakrishnan.

Satyanarayana is survived by his wife and two college-going sons. The Telugu Desam Party has offered to the family Rs 2 lakh. But Gopakakrishnan said that the fear of the people behind the murder is so great that other than immediate colleagues even senior officials of the Andhra Jyothy newspaper did not contact the family.

Nagarjuna Reddy, Surya daily

Three weeks before Satyanarayana’s murder, Nagarjuna Reddy, a district staff reporter with a Telugu daily Surya, was assaulted by supporters of YSRC member Amanchi Krishna Mohan.

Mohan, who had held the Chirala seat in Prakasam district for two terms, lost to a Telugu Desam rival in the last elections.

Reddy has consistently reported on allegations about corruption against Mohan and has paid the price for it: this was the third time he has been assaulted for his articles about the politician.

The most recent attack, on September 23, came in retaliation for having recorded illegally mined sand being transported in trucks allegedly owned by Mohan, claimed Reddy. As he was shooting video of this on August 19, he noted a black Scorpio driven by the MLA’s nephew Amanchi Rajendra and brother-in-law Cherukuri Saiprakash Naidu approaching him in a menacing manner. Reddy left the spot and immediately filed an FIR with the Vetapalem police station. However, the police took no action on this.

On September 23, Reddy and his friend Anthe Krishna met with the Prakasam district Superintendent of Police at his weekly public grievance redressal forum. He submitted a memorandum to him expressing concern about the police inaction over an incident of violence on August 15 during a flag-hoisting ceremony when Mohan’s supporters had run amok, attacking journalists and other people attending the function.

Around 7 pm, as they were returning home on a motorcycle, they were surrounded by a group of 25 men. The group included Rajendra Amanchi, the nephew of the ex-MLA. After beating both Reddy and Krishna, the men took Reddy to a lonely spot near a canal where they were met by Amanchi Srinivas Rao, the brother of the ex-MLA, Reddy said.

Nagarjuna Reddy.

Rao mocked the complaint Reddy had been filed with the police, the journalist said. Rao ordered his men to make Reddy’s right hand “useless” so that he would not be able to write any more complaints.

After stabbing Reddy with knife, the men continued to beat his limp body with rods and then shoved him into a vehicle. They dropped him on the main road and drove away. Passersby called an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

“The entire episode lasted one hour and 40 minutes in a 25 kms range,” recalled Reddy. His right hand had 60 fractures, a deep eight-inch cut that required 18 stitches in addition to wounds all over his body.

He alleged that the attack was also an act of retaliation for another incident. Earlier in September, Reddy had helped a primary school girl, Pushpa Poduri from Ramachandrapuram village in Vetapalem Mandal of Prakasam district, to write a letter to the chief minister complaining that the ex-MLA Mohan had prevented her grandfather, Poduri Venkateswaralu, from contesting long-pending panchayat elections. Mohan had forced a boycott against the family that even prevented their children from attending school or playing with their friends. The attack was the consequence of this too, claimed Reddy.

This is not the first attack on Reddy suffered for his articles about Amanchi Krishna Mohan. Two years ago, Reddy was chased and beaten in full public view in the busy market in Chirala when he had gone out with his six-year-old child. No arrests were made despite an FIR against Mohan and others, including his brother, who was visible on CCTV attacking the journalist with a stick, noted Reddy.

In fact, the charges were diluted: the names of the MLA and his brother were withdrawn from the FIR and the four who were recorded as accused were given bail. The Press Council of India had taken suo-motu cognisance of the matter, but dropped its investigation after police failed to appear at hearings. Later, the police submitted a statement to the Press Council claiming that Reddy had links to Maoist organisations.

The second attack came in December 2018, when he was attacked by Dilip and 15 others, followers of the MLA, when Reddy was shooting footage of an advertisement that had pictures of the MLA along with several “rowdy sheeters”. The attackers stopped him from taking footage. When Reddy tried to escape on his bike, they chased him. They beat him, leaving him with a fractured right foot. An FIR was filed against Dilip and 15 others, but no arrests were made, recounted Reddy.

Amanchi Krishna Mohan successfully contested elections in Chirala constituency in 2009 and 2014, first as a member of the Congress and then from the Telugu Desam Party. A month and a half before the elections in April this year, Krishna Mohan dumped the Telugu Desam for the YSRC but lost the election.

When the Telugu Desam was in power, it had ignored the 2017 attack against Reddy allegedly orchestrated by Mohan, though the opposition YSRC rushed in to try to gain political mileage from the assault. However, in the recent attack, the ruling YSRC has remained silent even as the Telugu Desam Party issued a public statement describing the incident as an “attack against free speech under the YSRC government”.

In fact, after the February 2017 attack, Reddy had joined Sakshi, a newspaper clearly associated with YSRC, in October 2017 to ensure his security. As the paper’s district reporter for Ongole, Reddy had covered a padyatra by Jagan Mohan in March 2018. “He patted me and asked me to keep up the good work,” said Reddy.

About six months ago, he joined Surya, a Telugu daily news, as staff reporter. Surya editor Maarti Subramanian acknowledged that Reddy is a very brave journalist who has written many good stories. However, Reddy had not reported on the Chirala MLA during Subramanian’s tenure. Instead, but had used social media to bring news about him to other local news channel, Subramanian said.

Six people have been arrested in Reddy’s attack. But even before the court could bring them in for an identification parade, they were granted bail from another court and never reported on November 2, said Reddy.

Avula Manohar, Mahaa News

Avula Manohar, a stringer who has been working with the TV channel Mahaa News for the last three years, was attacked on August 25 at around 5 pm in Rayadurgam town of Anantapur district.

Manohar had reported on an incident on August 11, when a minor girl from a Dalit family from KP Doddi village of Gummagatta Mandal was beaten by panchayat elders for having eloped with a Dalit boy, aged 20. Manohar had received video footage of the incident from an unknown person and, after verifying the news, he sent it to his channel.

The news went viral over social media and was also covered by national channels.

Avula Manohar, after he was assaulted.

The police booked a man named Lingappa Bomanna under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Atrocities Prevention Act and also for “voluntarily causing hurt”. Although the Superintendent of Police Anantpur had responded on social media that the suspect would also be charged under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, this was not done.

Mahaa News had reported that the panchayat elders had the support of Kapu Ramachandra Reddy, the YSRC MLA from Rayadurg. Shortly after, Manohar began receiving calls from a man named Nagi Reddy, who threatened the journalist for having written about the incident. Manohar did not report the matter to the police until he was physically assaulted by a group of eight to ten men when he was driving to work on his motorcycle. As they beat him, the men told him to stop writing about the MLA.

Manohar told that he has been covering allegations about MLA Reddy’s involvement in illegal sand mining, land grabbing and illegal real estate activities for the last four years. Though Manohar complained to the investigating officer in the hospital the day he was attacked as well as to the Superintendent of Police the next day that his attackers had warned him to stop writing articles that were critical the MLA, the FIR has been filed against unknown persons.

Manohar has little hope the real culprits behind the attack will be punished.

N Dolendra Prasad

N Dolendra Prasad, the editor of ZaminryotTelugu Weekly, said he had to sit in the Dargamitta police station, Nellore district till 1.30 am on August 12 insisting that an FIR be filed against Kotamreddy Sridhar Reddy, the MLA from the Nellore Rural constituency, and his close aides, Vishnu, Murali Krishna Yadav, Suresh and others.

On June 23, Prasad’s assistant editor Abdul Rahim was called by the MLA to attend a press conference. When Rahim got to Reddy’s office, where only a couple of reporters were present. Instead, Rahim he was warned against reporting any news that was critical of the MLA. To drive home the point, the MLA and some of his men beat Rahim badly.

N Dolendra Prasad.

The next day, Prasad lodged a complaint with the Superintendent of Police, marking a copy to the state’s Director General of Police, the home minister as well as the chief minister. A fortnight later, MLA Reddy landed at the journalist’s home at around 8.30 in the evening. He screamed at Prasad for having complained about him, threatening to hurt the editor if he refused to publish what was dictated to him, and then slapped him in front of his 90-year-old mother and grandchildren.

Zaminryot was established in 1930 by Prasad’s grandfather to raise awareness about the problems of the zamindari system of feudal landlords, said Prasad. “Those days we would face threats from zamindars and their masters.” But none of his predecessors had to face an attack of this sort, he said.

In his FIR, Prasad clearly identified the MLA and his five aides as the attackers. However, no investigation appears to have been underway in the last two-and-half months, he said.