Journalists in Chhattisgarh are forced to take sides either with the state or with the Maoist insurgents

Santosh Yadav, Somaru Naag
Santosh Yadav, Somaru Naag

A civil society statement of solidarity for journalists’ movement in Chhattisgarh for the release of two reporters, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Naag, arrested under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act on “framed up” charges, by 30-odd organizations, including Journalists’ Union For civil Society, People’s Union for Civil Liberties,  Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association, Media Studies Group, New Socialist Initiative, and others:

We extend our unconditional support to the journalists’ movement proposed on December 21, 2015 in Jagdalpur district of Chhattisgarh demanding the enactment of a protection law for scribes and immediate release of two reporters Santosh Yadav and Somaru Naag, who were arrested in September and July this year in fabricated cases and charged under Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA). We have seen a surge in the attack on right to freedom of expression in recent times where journalists have been intimidated, bullied and even killed in different parts of the country. This has raised questions over legitimacy of democratically elected governments and is threatening the basic principles of democracy.

Chhattisgarh is notably different in this respect as journalists here are forced to take sides either with the state or with the Maoist insurgents. In the distant areas of Dantewada, survival of a journalist depends on the meager concessions given by either police or Maoists. If in case he dares to sympathize with the marginalized tribals sandwiched between police and insurgents and eventually finds it difficult to suppress his voice of conscience, then he is destined to death or is sent behind bars. This deplorable condition is outlined in the case of Nemichandra Jain and Sai Reddy, who were first sent to jail on charges of being Maoist informer and when released, killed by Maoists who termed them as police agents. Santosh Yadav and Somaru Naag are victims of the same vicious circle who are now facing severe torture inside Jagdalpur jail since last few months but unfortunately, no collective voice has been raised in their support at national level until date.

Although, journalists in Bastar have successfully agitated in the past. They have equally condemned the state and police atrocities as well as opposed intimidation of free speech by Maoists. When journalist Nemichandra Jain was killed by Maoists, there was a huge mobilization among fraternity and a collective decision was taken not to publish any news item on insurgents. This collective action forced a written apology from Maoist spokesperson Gudsa Usendi. When Sai Reddy was murdered, journalists decided to enter the Maoist stronghold and dissent to send a direct message that terror on free speech will not be tolerated. Journalists there have taken the same position against police and state machinery. These past events and agitations only prove that journalists of Bastar are collectively fighting to preserve the fundamental right to freedom of expression and speech.

A healthy and functioning democracy requires that journalists should feel free to work in an objective manner without any fear. The case of Santosh Yadav and Somaru Naag is a characteristic example of state terror and police’s high-handedness hence it is imperative to build a struggle for freedom of expression and speech around this. Although lately, but recent agitation on this issue at national level should be welcomed in word and spirit.

We demand immediate and unconditional release of Santosh and Somaru. We demand repealing of draconian CSPSA and enactment of a law to protect journalists. These are the same demands to be raised on December 21 by the movement. Apart, we demand a white paper from the state government on the attacks and harassment of scribes during last five years in Chhattisgarh, to initiate a public discussion on this issue and to facilitate the formation of a comprehensive law for protection of journalists.

We also demand that the officials involved in conspiracy against jailed journalists must be identified  and brought to book. A case must be registered against officials and the jailed journalists must be compensated for the loss. Last but not the least, we appeal to all the editors in Chhattisgarh to stand up against scuttling of free speech and leave the editorial space empty in their publications on December 21, 2015 in support of the larger movement.

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