Laws hamper media coverage of Maoist story

RAIPUR, India, Feb 17, 2008 (AFP) – As the state at the epicentre of India’s Maoist insurgency battles the rebels, journalists say they too are finding themselves branded as outlaws. A law passed by Chhattisgarh state in 2005 made it a crime to “assist in a meeting” with a member of a banned organisation, or to say or write anything that encourages “disobedience to established law and its institutions.”

Local journalists say the law amounts to a gag as they try to cover those on the wrong side of the world’s largest democracy.

“There has been a psychological effort to create an atmosphere where you feel that if you interview Naxals (Maoists), the government could arrest you,” said Ruchir Garg, bureau chief for news channel Sahara Samay in the state capital Raipur.

“This was a very systematic and calculated effort.”

The Maoist insurgency grew out of a peasant uprising in 1967 and has hit half India’s 29 states.

Tensions in the region escalated dramatically on Friday when 13 police and a civilian were killed in the worst attack in months in neighbouring Orissa state.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Chhattisgarh by the conflict and now l