Indian columnist Gautam Navlakha was arrested in April 2020 and was charged under the anti-terror Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in October. Before his arrest, Navlakha told CPJ that he believed he was being targeted for his work as a journalist and human rights activist. As of September 2022, his bail petition remained pending at the Bombay High Court.
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 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, according to news reports.
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), according to news reports.
In February 2019, Navlakha remained out of custody 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. 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 news reports.
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.
On November 19, 2022, Navlakha was moved from prison to house arrest in Navi Mumbai on medical grounds, Hindustan Times reported. Navlakha’s partner Sahba Husain told CPJ in November 2022 that the journalist has been suffering from high blood pressure, a lump in his chest and dental problems. The court has imposed a number of conditions while he is on house arrest, including surveillance through closed circuit television, limited use of phone, and no access to the internet, The Indian Express reported. Only Husain has been allowed to stay with him.
NIA spokesperson Nitish Kumar did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment via text message. CPJ also emailed the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees the NIA, but did not receive any reply.