US body supports Indian director
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US body supports Indian director

A New York body is advocating Rakesh Sharma's case against New York police.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2006 14:28 IST

Award-winning Indian documentary filmmaker Rakesh Sharma, who filed a legal suit against the city of New York for being detained and harassed while shooting a film in the city last year, has found support from a New York rights body.

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), in conjunction with the New York University Law School Civil Rights Clinic, is advocating Sharma's case after the filmmaker was allegedly harassed by the New York police in May last year while shooting in midtown Manhattan.

Sharma, best known for his documentary Final Solutions on the 2002 sectarian violence in Gujarat, was shooting for his film about ordinary people with a handheld camera from the sidewalks of the city when he was detained by police.

On behalf of Sharma, NYCLU in association with the New York University Law School Civil Rights Clinic filed a federal lawsuit in Manhattan Jan 10.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said: "In a democracy, people have the right to document activity in public places without being arrested... When the city tried to stop people from taking pictures in the subway, we objected and the city backed down."

"In the same way, we are challenging the city's arbitrary film permitting scheme, which exposes legitimate filmmakers to risk of arrest for taking pictures on the streets of New York," Lieberman was quoted at saying on their website.

Chris Dunn, NYCLU associate legal director, who is also professor at the New York University Civil Rights Clinic, said: "With its many landmarks and rich street life, New York City is the focus of much important photography and filming. The police can and should investigate suspicious activity, but that does not give them licence to arrest people for public photography."

NYU law students Sam Munger, Elizabeth Owen and Katherine Steele are working as counsel on Sharma's case.

"It's a sad day when the police think they can detain and mistreat someone simply for making a film on a public street in New York City," said Sharma.

"I cooperated with them and answered all their questions, but they treated me like a criminal. It was wrong, and I was scared and humiliated."

Sharma has also won awards for his documentary "Aftershocks", on the 2001 earthquake in Kutch, Gujarat.

The suit also claims New York City's film-permit scheme is unconstitutional and seeks a court order against its enforcement.

The defendants named in the suit filed in the US District Court, Southern District of New York include the City of New York; Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting and Daniel D'Alessandro, detective of the New York Police Department (NYPD).

The plaint stated that in May 2005 Sharma was visiting New York to make a film about the lives of ordinary people, including taxi drivers, in the post-9/11 world. After lawfully filming various midtown scenes with a handheld camera while standing on a sidewalk, he was detained by police officers, held for hours, and interrogated.

The officers searched his possessions and camera before releasing him. He was told he needed to have a permit for future filming.

Sharma returned to New York in Nov 2005 and applied for a permit so he would not be harassed again. The Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting (MOFTB) denied his request and refused to provide him with a written explanation. The MOFTB has no written permit standards and requires applicants to have $1 million of insurance.

First Published: Jan 16, 2006 14:27 IST