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Government Says Newsman’s Passport Impounded in National Interest

May 9, 1985

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ The home affairs minister has told Parliament that the government impounded the passport of Associated Press correspondent Brahma Chellaney because the action was in the national interest.

Shankarrao B. Chavan said Chellaney’s passport was seized earlier this year under a clause of the Indian Passport Act which empowers authorities to impound a travel document ″in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of India, friendly relations of India with any foreign country or in the interests of the general public.″

Replying to written questions raised by a former railway minister, Madhu Dandavate, Chavan told the governing lower house of Parliament on Wednesday that the question of renewing Chellaney’s journalistic accreditation for 1985 ″is under consideration.″

Press accreditation cards are normally renewed in late December or early January of each year, and the government’s press information bureau has not replied to an Associated Press letter seeking a formal explanation for not renewing Chellaney’s credentials.

Chavan denied Dandavate’s suggestion that the 28-year-old newsman had been harassed by the government ″for his frank and objective reports″ on the Indian army assault on armed extremists holed up inside the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine of the Sikh religion.

Chellaney, an Indian citizen, faces preliminary charges of sedition, inciting communal trouble and violating news censorship for his reporting from Punjab during the June 1984 army operation. But he has never been arraigned before a judge or magistrate.

He is the first journalist since Indian independence to be accused of sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Chavan told the lawmakers that India’s supreme court has ordered authorities not to arrest Chellaney, but that the temporary bail could be canceled if the journalist does not ″offer full cooperation to the investigating officers.″

Chellaney was interrogated for 35 hours over 16 days by Amritsar police, army intelligence officials and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. He has refused to name his sources, citing journalistic ethics.

In its complaint, the government has cited a dispatch by Chellaney that was published in the London Times, which quoted official sources as saying more than 1,200 people were killed in the army assault on the temple, and that some dead Sikh militants were found with their hands tied behind their backs.

Similar information was published subsequently in reputable Indian publications. The government has reported that less than 600 deaths occurred in the army attack. Chellaney was the only representative of a foreign news organization in Amritsar at the time, although he did not witness the army assault on the temple.

Chavan’s statement followed strong protests by three international press organizations last weekend, protesting against the treatment of Chellaney.

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