Around 160 journalists, editors and activists from across the country will protest in Bastar on December 21. This is in protest against “a deep sense of insecurity” that they face during the course of their work, brought to the fore with the arrests of two journalists with regional newspapers over three months ago.
The protesters have petitioned Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh, union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Arun Jaitley and Minister for Tribal Affairs Jual Oram asking for the unconditional release of the journalists along with other demands.
Signatories to the petition including independent journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurtha, Ravish Kumar of NDTV, Shekhar Gupta of Business Standard, Rajdeep Sardesai of India Today Group, have four demands:
The full petition and the list of signatories has been published by The Hoot.
International journalists’ rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists has also reported on the Yadav’s case.
India has made it to the CJP’s Global Impunity Index for the eight year in a row, its ranking being 14 in 2015, one place lower from the previous year. The Impunity Index ranks the countries where at least five journalists have been murdered without a single perpetrator being convicted. Other countries that have made to this list this year include Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where armed conflicts have been raging for several years.
Santosh Yadav (29) who used to work for multiple newspapers in Darbha block of southern Bastar, was arrested on September 29 and Somaru Nag a local news agent who often doubled up as a reporter was arrested on July 16. Both were arrested on allegations of aiding Maoists, but their families, and the journalist community says the charges are trumped up.
Nag has been accused of helping Maoists escape on June 25 after they attacked three crusher plants and stole machinery. He has been charged sections of dacoity, mischief by fire or explosive substance, criminal conspiracy, criminal intimidation, Arms Act, and court hearings are in progress.
Yadav has been accused of “complicity” in with the Maoists when they launched an attack in August in which one STF jawan was killed. Police arrested him for turning up too quickly on the scene. Police have registered a case for rioting with deadly weapons, criminal conspiracy, attempt to murder, murder, and various provisions of Arms Act, Explosives Act, UAPA, Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.
Isha Khandelwal of the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, who is representing both journalists, says the police story has several discrepancies.
“When police were asked why Santosh had been held, they initially said he was in touch with Shankar, a Maoist, and supplied information to him. A month and a half later, the prosecution moved an application saying the complainant had seen Santosh during an encounter. Even in the case of Nag, they have arrested him for allegedly keeping a lookout for Naxals as they burnt down crushers. There is no evidence,” she told The Indian Express.
Kamal Shukla, president of the Patrakaar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti told The Express that they would demand a law to penalize officials imposing false cases on journalists and also provide scribes with identity cards.
ADG, Anti-Naxal Operations, R K Vij said that there should be “a degree of self-regulation by the media” as he told IE, “The media has great freedom, and police are the guardian of that freedom. Even the Supreme Court has refused to limit the media.”
BJP MP Dinesh Kashyap from Baster told IE, “It is true that journalists get stuck between the police and Maoists, and I support the issues being raised by them.” The BJP is in power both at the centre and in Chhattisgarh.