Journalist arrested in restive Chhattisgarh state in India

On September 29, 2015, police in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh arrested a journalist on what his colleagues said were fabricated charges in connection with his reporting on human rights abuses by local authorities, according to news reports.

Santosh Yadav, a freelance journalist based in Bastar district, contributes reports and photos to several local, privately owned dailies including Dainik Navbharat, Patrika, and Dainik Chhattisgarh. He reported on human rights abuses by the police against tribal communities in the region, according to his lawyer, Isha Khandelwal, who spoke to CPJ. Yadav had also helped connect members of his community, whose family members faced arrest, to legal aid groups, according to Khandelwal and news reports.

Police charged Yadav with rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder under the Indian penal code. He was also charged with “associating with a terrorist organization” and “supporting and aiding terrorist groups” under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, according to the independent news website Scroll. Charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, a counterterrorism law, have also been brought against Yadav, according to Khandelwal. Police said that Yadav had links to Maoists rebels and that he had participated in violence between police and Maoists in the state on August 21, 2015, according to The Hindu.

Yadav’s colleagues and his lawyer said the journalist was innocent. Khandelwal said police forced the journalist to sign a blank paper which they said was a confession, The Hindu reported.

In late August 2015, about a month before Yadav was arrested, police arrested at least five men from Bhadrimahu village in Chhattisgarh and accused them of helping Maoist rebels carry out a deadly ambush in which a police official was killed, according to news reports. On September 29, 2015, the families of the men went to the police station to secure their release and Yadav accompanied them to cover the incident. He was arrested later that day. Police denied that Yadav was arrested for reporting on the case.

For decades, Maoists have led an insurgency in the central tribal areas of India. Journalists are frequently targeted by both Maoists and government forces in the states affected by the conflict, CPJ research shows. The Maoists are designated as a terrorist organization by the Indian government. Police often carry out arbitrary arrests and pressure residents to serve as informers, while Maoists have killed residents suspected of being informers, according to news reports.

In October 2015, Yadav was placed in pre-trial custody, according to news reports. In a protest that month, hundreds of journalists called on police to substantiate the allegations against him and asked why police waited several days before disclosing that he had been arrested, according to The Hoot.

The superintendent of Bastar district police, Ajay Yadav, said he did not consider Yadav a journalist, according to news reports.

Khandelwal told CPJ that Yadav has been harassed by police several times in recent years. According to the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, an Indian human rights organization, and reports citing local journalists, police had harassed the journalist since they saw him at a May 2013 attack by Maoists that left dozens dead, including three Congress Party officials. The PUCL said that police presumed Yadav was a participant in the attack because he was one of the first reporters to arrive at the scene.

In 2014, police summoned Yadav to the police station, where they stripped him and held him for several hours, according to Khandelwal and Scroll. The journalist warned police that if they beat him, he would write about it, according to the PUCL. News reports did not elaborate on why he had been summoned. In August 2014, police filed a case against Yadav, accusing him of harassing a woman, which the journalist’s family and colleagues said was a false allegation. News reports said that Yadav had also been pressured by police to join their efforts to capture Maoists. Yadav’s wife, Poonam, told The Hindu that police had threatened to kill her husband in 2014.

Yadav’s next court hearing is scheduled to be held in early 2016, Khandelwal told CPJ.