Coalition calls for release of two journalists in Chhattisgarh, India
Jan 21, NY: The undersigned human-rights and free-expression organizations, are writing to express deep concern over the continued detention of two journalists in Chhattisgarh. Journalists Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav have been held since July and September, respectively, in connection with their work. On January 7, a court denied bail to Yadav, according to several journalists. We call on you to ask authorities to drop all charges against Nag and Yadav, and to ensure a safer working environment for journalists in the state.
Authorities arrested Yadav, a freelance journalist whose reporting included allegations of human rights abuses by the police against adivasi or tribal communities in the region on September 29, 2015. Police subsequently accused Yadav, who has faced repeated police harassment in the past, of rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder, according to his lawyer, Isha Khandelwal. He was also accused of "associating with a terrorist organization" and "supporting and aiding terrorist groups" under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act as well as under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, according to Khandelwal.
Nag, who covered rural issues such as access to water and electricity for Patrika newspaper and others, was arrested on July 16, 2015. Police accused him of being a Maoist sympathizer and collaborating with a group of villagers to set fire to equipment being used to build roads in the state. He faces charges of banditry, arson, and criminal conspiracy under the penal code as well as under the Arms Act, according to Khandelwal, who is also representing Nag.
We are aware of the security challenges before you. For decades, Maoist groups--designated as terrorist organizations by the Indian government--have led an insurgency in the central tribal areas of the country. Unfortunately, journalists have frequently been caught between Maoists and government forces. According to CPJ research, police often pressure, harass, or abuse journalists in an effort to silence their critical reporting or compel them to serve as informants. Meanwhile Maoists have been responsible for attacking journalists they accuse of being informants for police, according to CPJ research. While Maoists claimed responsibility for the 2013 murder of veteran journalist Sai Reddy of Deshbandhu, he had also faced harassment at the hands of police, according to local news reports.
Last month, police officials in the state allegedly circulated cartoons on mobile messaging and social networking sites linking journalists to Maoists, according to local journalists. Such actions could further endanger journalists who are already vulnerable to violence from all sides. While police have not yet commented, we urge your administration to investigate allegations that the local police may have been involved.
We note your commitment in a meeting last month with local journalists to find a resolution to Nag and Yadav's case. We ask that you do all in your power to ensure their swift release, and to take immediate steps to address the violence and harassment that journalists face in the state.
The Oslo Times/CPJ