Several well-known media personalities and civil rights activists, including Shekhar Gupta, Sevanti Nainan, Rajdeep Sardesai, Aruna Roy and Indira Jaising have appealed to the authorities against the arrest and custodial torture of two Hindi language journalists, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, for their alleged involvement with the Maoists in Chhattisgarh. The petition, signed by 160 journalists, activists and academics, has been submitted to chief minister of Chhattisgarh Dr Raman Singh, Union home minister Rajnath Singh, Union minister of information and broadcasting Arun Jaitley and Union minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram. Text of the petition:
We, the undersigned journalists and members of civil society, are deeply concerned about the reports of the arrest and custodial torture of two Hindi language journalists SantoshYadav and Somaru Nag, in September and July this year, from the Darbha block of Southern Bastar in Chhattisgarh, on the charge of supporting Maoists.
Santosh Yadav, was arrested by police on September 29 2015 and Somaru Nag, an Adivasi journalist, was arrested on July 16, 2015. Yadav used to report for multiple Hindi newspapers, including “Dainik Navbharat” and “Dainik Chhattisgarh”. Nag was a stringer-cum-news agent with “Rajasthan Patrika”.
While Nag has been charged under the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act, Yadav has been charged under the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act (CPSA). There is no clarity as to the charges against them, or the evidence which the police hold about their alleged involvement with Maoists.
According to these reports (“Arrested, tortured and Jailed in South Bastar” and “Truth has two versions in Bastar”), Yadav’s name was added to a case where 18 villagers were arrested and charged with an encounter, which took place on 21st August during a road-opening operation by the security forces in which a Special Police Officer was killed. Nag was charged with keeping a look out on the movements of the police, while a group burnt a crusher plant employed in road construction in Chote Kadma on 26th June.
Local lawyers and members of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties said that police had been harassing Santosh Yadav for several months now, ever since he began reporting on the conflict between the police and the Maoists. While the police personnel state that he had links with the Maoists, civil liberties activists allege that the police was pressurizing Yadav to become an informer for them.
The arrests have only brought to the fore the extremely precarious condition of journalists reporting from these conflict areas, in particular journalists who live and work in rural areas. They face a Hobson’s choice, and their reportage as well as their independence and their very safety, is severely compromised. In this situation, police arrests end up intimidating and silencing all independent voices.
Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav’s arrests have contributed to a deep sense of insecurity amongst journalists in the state and a fear that, not just their work, but their own lives, will be in danger if they venture out to do any independent investigation, or stories that are critical of either the security forces or the Maoists.
Either way, they face a threat, and these arrests suggest that journalists cannot expect any protection under the law from police and security forces.
- In order to protect their right to work and report freely, the local journalists have formed a Patrakaar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti (United Struggle Body for the Security of Journalists). This body has demanded that Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav be immediately released;
- that the state create conditions for reporters to work and travel freely, and without fear or harassment;
- that the practice of fake arrests stop and that the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act be repealed or not used against reporters;
- and finally, an investigation into the methods adopted by senior police official S.R.P.Kalluri, who has created an atmosphere of terror in the Bastar region, especially against the media.