Gautam Navlakha

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Indian columnist Gautam Navlakha was arrested in April 2020 and was charged under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in October of that year. Before his arrest, Navlakha told CPJ that he believed he was being targeted for his work as a journalist and human rights activist. In November 2022, he was transferred to house arrest, where he remained as of late 2023.

Navlakha is a columnist at the NewsClick news website, and was formerly an editorial consultant with Economic and Political Weekly, a peer-reviewed academic journal, he told CPJ before his arrest. He has written frequently on the region of Kashmir and on Maoist separatists.

On August 28, 2018, police officers from Pune arrested Navlakha during a raid on his home in New Delhi for his alleged links to a Maoist group, but a court ordered his release immediately thereafter. 

Authorities accused Navlakha, columnist Anand Teltumbde, and nine others of being responsible for violence that erupted in the Pune district of Maharashtra state on December 31, 2017, and having links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). 

In February 2019, Navlakha remained out of custody while authorities investigated him under the UAPA and various sections of the Indian penal code, according to news reports. Authorities accused him of inciting violence during a public gathering in 2018 and being part of a Maoist conspiracy to assassinate Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

Throughout 2018 and 2019, Navlakha unsuccessfully appealed to courts in Maharashtra state and at the federal level to drop the investigation. In January 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over his case from the police, and in March, India’s Supreme Court ordered him to surrender to the agency, according to news reports. On April 14, 2020, he turned himself in to the agency, according to reports.

Days before turning himself in to authorities, Navlakha told CPJ that he maintained his innocence.

In October 2020, the NIA filed a 10,000-page charge sheet, accusing Navlakha of communicating with Kashmiri separatists, Pakistani intelligence, and members of a banned Maoist party, and “working against the nation.” 

According to a March 2021 report by the U.S.-based forensic firm Arsenal Consulting, malware was used to surveil and plant documents citing Navlakha by name on the laptop of his co-accused, activist Rona Wilson. Authorities cited the documents as evidence against Navlakha in the charge sheet.

On November 19, 2022, Navlakha was moved from prison to house arrest in Navi Mumbai on medical grounds. Navlakha’s partner Sahba Husain told CPJ by phone in October 2023 that the journalist’s health had improved since his transfer to house arrest, which is being served in a public library.

Husain said that Navlakha’s family has been unable to find an alternative accommodation due to the NIA’s strict requirements, including constant surveillance through closed circuit television and presence of security personnel. A Mumbai court also imposed a number of conditions on his house arrest, such as limited access to phone calls and guests, and no internet access. Only Husain has been allowed to stay with him.

In August 2023, the Delhi Police Special Cell named Navlakha as a suspect in another UAPA and criminal investigation that resulted in the October 2023 arrests of NewsClick founder and editor Prabir Purkayastha and head of human resources, Amit Chakraborty.

The NIA did not respond to CPJ’s email sent in late 2023 requesting comment. CPJ also emailed the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the NIA, but did not receive any reply.