Monday, January 25, 2016

Chhattisgarh journos' arrest: Now cops "circulating" cartoons on mobile, social media alleging Maoist link

Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag
By Our Representative
In development, which is likely to further add to the eroding image of the Modi government vis-a-vis human rights and freedom of expression, some of the top world world bodies have thrown their weight behind the campaign to release two Chhattisgarh journalists, Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, arrested last year for their alleged Naxalite connections.
Those who have signed the letter include Joel Simon, Executive Director, Committee to Protect Journalists; Andrew Heslop, Director, Press Freedom, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers; Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary, International Federation of Journalists; Daniel Calingaert, Executive Vice President Freedom House; and Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Director, Free Expression Programs, PEN American Center.
These organizations have joined Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director, Human Rights Watch, and Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India, to write a letter to Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, among others, expressing their “deep concern” over the journalists’ continued detention.
Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav were held in July and September 2015, respectively. The letter wants “authorities to drop all charges against Nag and Yadav, and to ensure a safer working environment for journalists in the state”, adding, they were victims of a situation in which  journalists are "caught between Maoists and government forces.”
Authorities arrested Yadav, a freelance journalist, whose reporting included allegations of human rights abuses by the police "against adivasi or tribal communities" on September 29, 2015. Police accused Yadav of "rioting, criminal conspiracy, and attempted murder", “associating with a terrorist organization” and “supporting and aiding terrorist groups”.
As for Nag, who covered rural issues such as access to water and electricity for "Patrika" newspaper and others, was arrested on July 16, 2015, with police accusing him of being “a Maoist sympathizer and collaborating with a group of villagers to set fire to equipment being used to build roads in the state.” Nag faces charges of "banditry, arson, and criminal conspiracy under the penal code as well as under the Arms Act."
Agreeing that “for decades, Maoist groups—designated as terrorist organizations by the Indian government—have led an insurgency in the central tribal areas of the country”, the letter states, “Unfortunately, journalists have been caught between Maoists and government forces.”
Quoting a research by New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the letter says, “Police often pressure, harass, or abuse journalists in an effort to silence their critical reporting or compel them to serve as informants. Meanwhile Maoists have been responsible for attacking journalists they accuse of being informants for police.”
Thus, “While Maoists claimed responsibility for the 2013 murder of veteran journalist Sai Reddy of Deshbandhu, he had also faced harassment at the hands of police”, the letter says.
In a disturbing development, the letter says, last month, police officials in Chhattisgarh “circulated cartoons on mobile messaging and social networking sites linking journalists to Maoists”, pointing out how such actions could “further endanger journalists who are already vulnerable to violence from all sides.”
Seeking the journalists’ "swift release", the letter wants the Chhattisgarh chief minister to abide by his “commitment in a meeting last month with local journalists to find a resolution”, insisting, “We ask that you do all in your power to ensure their swift release, and to take immediate steps to address the violence and harassment that journalists face in the state.”

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