Journalist covering sensitive rural issues in India jailed

December 2, 2015 3:30 PM ET

Plainclothes police arrested Somaru Nag on July 16, 2015, at his family's mobile phone shop on the outskirts of Darbha town, according his brother, Sonaru, who was cited by the South Asian media watchdog group The Hoot. The family was told of his arrest three days later.

Police accused Nag of collaborating with a group of villagers who on June 26, 2015 allegedly set fire to equipment being used to build roads in Chote Kadma, The Hoot reported. Police said the villagers were Maoists or Maoist sympathizers, according to the media watchdog. Many of those who participated in damaging the equipment fled, and it is unclear how many individuals were arrested, according to news reports.

Nag was charged under the Arms Act, according to his lawyer, Isha Khandelwal, and news reports. He was also charged with banditry under Section 395, arson under Section 435, and criminal conspiracy under Section 120B of the Indian penal code.

Nag worked as a stringer for the daily Patrika for three years and frequently covered rural issues including development and access to water and electricity in the region, according to Kamal Shukla, the Kanker-based editor of the daily Bhumkaal Samachaar, who was familiar with the case.

Shukla told CPJ that he was not aware of any specific reports that could have been the reason for Nag's arrest, but he said police in the region frequently target journalists who they believe could serve as informants on Maoist operations.

Khandelwal said Nag could have been targeted because he was "a very vocal journalist" and one of the only tribal journalists working in the vicinity. Khandelwal said that authorities could have been motivated to pre-emptively silence any reporting on intensifying security operations in the region.

Both Shukla and Khandelwal said they were not aware of previous police pressure against Nag.

Hundreds of journalists in the state protested Nag's imprisonment in early October 2015 and called on police to substantiate the allegations against him, according to The Hoot. The Delhi Union of Journalists called for the release of Nag and an "end to victimization of journalists in conflict areas where they are caught between the conflicting demands of rebel groups and state forces," according to news reports.

Nag belongs to the indigenous community known as Adivasis. These tribal communities are often caught between Maoists and security forces. Police frequently make arbitrary arrests and pressure members of tribal communities to work as informants, according to news reports.

Nag's brother told The Hoot that the family visited Nag at Jagdalpur jail in Chhattisgarh and said he had been severely beaten while in custody.

CPJ was unable to contact Chhattisgarh police.

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