Thursday, March 24, 2016

How journalist Prabhat Singh became the target of Chhattisgarh police // Chhattisgarh journalist’s arrest: NHRC sends notice to government // छत्तीसगढ़ में पत्रकारों पर पुलिस की टेढ़ी नजर, अब तक तीन पत्रकार गिरफ़्तार

The BJP government seems dedicated to wiping out the rule of law

“A press conference in Bastar is usually a quiet affair, journalists just record what is said or take the handout and regurgitate it on the paper,” Prabhat Singh told the Hindustan Times in December 2015. "No one dares ask a question."

Singh would know. On April 22, the 32-year-old from Dantewada had posed some questions to the most powerful police officer in Chhattisgarh's southern region of Bastar, Inspector General Shiv Ram Prasad Kalluri. The questions related to an encounter in the village of Modenar, part of the area in the grip of the long-running armed conflict between Maoist rebels and government forces.

छत्तीसगढ़ में पत्रकारों पर पुलिस की टेढ़ी नजर, अब तक तीन पत्रकार गिरफ़्तार

छत्तीसगढ़ के नक्सल प्रभावित बस्तर में एक के बाद एक पत्रकारों की गिरफ़्तारी से पुलिस पर सवाल खड़े हो रहे हैं कि क्या नक्सलियों की आड़ में छत्तीसगढ़ सरकार प्रेस और सिविल सोसायटी की आवाज़ दबाना चाहती है। इस बीच स्थानीय पुलिस के साथ बेहद क़रीबी तालमेल से काम कर रहे संगठन का ख़ौफ़ हर रोज़ बढ़ रहा।

Journalists who attended the press conference recall that Singh's questions upset Kalluri, who had issued veiled threats to him. He is reported to have said, "Tumhari kundli mere paas hai." I have your full record. Singh nonetheless went ahead and reported on the encounter, questioning the police version of events. His report appeared on the front page story of the Jagdalpur edition of Patrika, the Hindi daily for which he worked.

Earlier in 2015, two journalists, Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav, had been arrested by Bastar police on charges of supporting Maoist rebels. They had denied the charges and alleged that they were being framed by the police for reporting on police excesses. In their support, local journalists like Singh had taken out protest rallies in December and asked for a law to protect journalists from arbitrary police action. 

On March 1, Singh defended the law on a group called "Bastar News" on the messaging service WhatsApp. He said, “Patrakar suraksha kanoon se kewal unhe parhez hai jo already mama ki **** [expletive deleted] mein baithe hai. Deshdrohi gaddar hai, hind jai bharat.” Only those who are sitting in **** [expletive deleted] of mama are opposed to the journalist protection law. Mama is a colloquial reference to the police in general. In Bastar, journalists often use it to refer to Kalluri, the senior most police official of the region.

The Indian Express has reported that this WhatsApp message led to Singh’s arrest under section 67 and 67-A of the Information Technology Act, which pertains to circulating obscene material. The paper has quoted an unnamed police official as saying so. Bastar police officials did not respond to's calls. Singh's lawyers are still to get a copy of the First Information Report filed against him. The complainant in the case is Santosh Tiwari, the admin of the WhatsApp group, and a journalist and trader by profession. His phone was switched off.

Incidentally, Singh had filed a complaint against Tiwari for defaming him on the same WhatsApp group by calling him "anti-national". Two others were named in the complaint: Mahesh Rao and Subbarao, a member of the Samajik Ekta Manch, a civil vigilante group known to be close to Kalluri. The Manch has been at the forefront of targeting those who question the police. Singh was prescient in his interview to the Hindustan Times. Bastar was no place to ask questions. After his arrest, even more so.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) sent a notice to Chhattisgarh government Wednesday in connection with the arrest of journalist Prabhat Singh, who was picked up by police Monday. The notice is based on a complaint “drawing specific attention to the illegal arrest, detention and torture of a progressive journalist by police in Bastar on March 21, 2016, and alleging that human rights defenders are being targeted for doing their legitimate work as defenders of tribal rights in the state.” The Chief Secretary and DGP have been given two weeks’ time to submit a factual report...

Dr.Saibal Jana was arrested in a case related to the police firing on agitating workers of the Bhilai Industrial Area on 1 July, 1992. Dr Jana was, on that day, among the team of doctors providing medical assistance to trade union activists of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha who were injured.  We believe that Dr Jana’s arrest in this case, after a gap of 24 years, is motivated by sheer vendetta against him by BJP led Raman Singh government, that has an ideological hatred of anyone who stands up for the democratic rights of workers, farmers and ordinary Indian citizens.