Indian columnist Gautam Navlakha was arrested in April 2020, and charged in October with committing multiple anti-state crimes. Before his arrest, Navlakha told CPJ that he believed he was being targeted for his work as a journalist and human rights activist.
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 covering the social sciences, he told CPJ before his arrest. He has written frequently on the disputed region of Kashmir and on Maoist separatists.
Authorities accused Navlakha, columnist Anand Teltumbde, and nine others of being responsible for a 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), according to news reports.
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, according to news reports.
In February 2019, Navlakha was free while authorities investigated him under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 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, according to news reports.
Throughout 2018 and 2019, Navlakha unsuccessfully appealed to courts in Maharashtra state and at the federal level to drop the investigation, according to reports from the time. In January 2020, the National Investigation Agency took over his case from the Pune police, and in March the country’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 National Investigation Agency 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 news reports. According to a forensic analysis report released by the Massachusetts-based forensic firm Arsenal Consulting in February, an unknown attacker planted a document entitled “Report on Gautam Navlakha” on the laptop of Rona Wilson, a co-accused in Navlakha’s case, prior to Navlakha’s arrest.
The attacker also planted an alleged letter from “Sudarshan” to “Gautam Ji” (“Gautam Sir”) which referenced defeating “fascist forces both politically and otherwise,” according to that report.
If convicted of being a member of the banned Maoist party, he could face up to seven years in jail and a fine to be decided by the judge under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, according to reports.
In 2020 and 2021, National Intelligence Agency courts rejected Navlakha’s applications for bail on the grounds of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities’ failure to file charges within 90 days as stipulated by law, and medical grounds.
Navlakha’s partner Sahba Husain told CPJ in September 2021 that the journalist has been suffering from high blood pressure and a lump in his chest, and was petitioning the Bombay High Court to transfer him to house arrest so he could undergo medical treatment. Taloja Jail, where Navlakha is detained in the city of Navi Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, is not well equipped with doctors or medical supplies, Husain told CPJ.
Stan Swamy, a co-accused in Navlakha’s case who was also detained in Taloja Jail and suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died in May 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19, according to news reports. In April, the Indian Express reported that almost all jails in Maharashtra, including Taloja, were overcrowded.
National Investigation Agency spokesperson Jaya Roy did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment via text message. CPJ also emailed the Home Ministry, which oversees the National Investigation Agency, but did not receive any reply.