Police in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh arrested Yadav on what his colleagues said were fabricated charges brought in connection with his reporting on alleged human rights abuses by local authorities, according to news reports.
The freelance journalist, who is based in Bastar district, contributes reports and photos to several local, privately owned dailies including Dainik Navbharat, Patrika, and Dainik Chhattisgarh. He reported on alleged human rights abuses by the police against tribal communities in the region, according to his lawyer, Isha Khandelwal. Yadav also helps connect members of his community whose relatives are facing arrest to legal aid groups, reports said.
Police charged Yadav with rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder. 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 Yadav had links to Maoists rebels and had participated in violence between police and Maoists on August 21, 2015, according to The Hindu.
Yadav’s colleagues and his lawyer say the journalist was innocent. Khandelwal said Yadav was forced to sign a blank paper that the police have described in court and to the lawyer as a confession, The Hindu reported. The report did not say how he was pressured into signing the paper.
In August 2015, police arrested at least five men from Bhadrimahu, a village in Chhattisgarh, and accused them of helping Maoist rebels carry out an 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 encounter. He was arrested later that day. Police denied in news reports 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 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, and Maoists have killed residents suspected of being informers, according to news reports.
In October 2015, Yadav was placed in pretrial 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.
Ajay Yadav, the superintendent of Bastar district police, told journalists 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, the harassment began after police saw Yadav during a May 2013 attack by Maoists that left dozens dead, including three Congress Party officials. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties said police presumed Yadav had taken part 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. News reports did not say why he had been summoned. In August 2014, police filed a case against Yadav that accused him of harassing a woman. The journalist’s family and colleagues said that was a false allegation. News reports said that Yadav has been pressured by police to join their efforts to capture Maoists. Yadav’s wife, Poonam, told The Hindu that police had threatened to kill him in 2014.
According to a July 27, 2016, report in The Hindu, Yadav claimed that inmates in the Jagdalpur jail, where he is being held, were threatening his life. . “He said a person named Vicky was planning to attack him. He expressed apprehensions that he might be killed inside the jail. He is extremely scared,” said Budhram Yadav, his father, according to the report.