State and Non-State Attack on Journalists
Media under attack
NEW DELHI: Impact TV editor-in-chief Yumnam Rupachandra Singh in Manipur received a bomb threat last week, highlighting the difficulties journalists face from insurgents in the North East in particular. Local dailies have registered with blank editorial spaces, with scribes staging a protest sit-in against this pressure from non-state actors.
At the same time the Chhattisgarh government has ignored appeals signed by editors and reporters from across the country for the release of two Hindi journalists who have been arrested for alleged Naxal activities, and reportedly tortured in detention.They are in jail without bail, in yet another demonstration of state pressure to control the news.
In Manipur journalists also took out a rally and submitted a memorandum to the Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam demanding immediate security for the media persons.
The memorandum stated that the journalists fraternity is frequently threatened by various militant groups operating in the State.
Pradip Phanjoubam Editor of Free Press,Imphal told The Citizen, “This is something that is unacceptable. The media needs proper protection and support to function independently. There should be proper action to protect the media.
A joint statement of the Manipur editors and the All Manipur Working Journalists Union pointed to the threats under which local journalists work, as reflected in this latest bomb threat. The All Jiribam Working Journalist Union (AJWJU) said “This is a cause that serves one and all. We all are on public duty. There should be something that requires attention.”
The United NGOs Mission Manipur has also condemned the incident. In a separate press release, it said such an attack on the media is not for the first time.It further urged the State government and the Centre to invite independent experts or delegations from the National Human Right Commission to investigate the case for further legal action and to work out a mechanism to protect the journalists.
In Chhattisgarh two Hindi language journalists Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag were arrested several weeks ago from the Darbha block of Southern Bastar in Chhattisgarh, on the charge of supporting Maoists.
Santosh Yadav, was arrested by the police on September 29 2015 and Somaru Nag, an Adivasi journalist, was arrested on July 16 2015. Yadav used to report for multiple Hindi newspapers including Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh. Nag was a stringer-cum-news agent with Rajasthan Patrika.
While Nag has been charged under the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act, Yadav has been charged under the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act (CPSA). There is no clarity as to the charges against them, or the evidence which the police hold about their alleged involvement with Maoists.
Reoorts of extensive custodial torture of the two journalists made journalists petition the state government for their immediate release. However, there was no response to this. The petition read, “According to these reports (Arrested, tortured and Jailed in South Bastar and Truth has two versions in Bastar), Yadav's name was added to a case where 18 villagers were arrested and charged with an encounter, which took place on 21st August during a road-opening operation by the security forces in which a Special Police Officer was killed. Nag was charged with keeping a look out on the movements of the police, while a group burnt a crusher plant employed in road construction in Chote Kadma on26th June.
Local lawyers and members of the People's Union of Civil Liberties said that police had been harassing Santosh Yadav for several months now, ever since he began reporting on the conflict between the police and the Maoists. While the police personnel state that he had links with the Maoists, civil liberties activists allege that the police was pressurizing Yadav to become an informer for them.
The arrests have only brought to the fore the extremely precarious condition of journalists reporting from these conflict areas, in particular journalists who live and work in rural areas. They face a Hobson's choice, and their reportage as well as their independence and their very safety, is severely compromised. In this situation, police arrests end up intimidating and silencing all independent voices.
Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav’s arrests have contributed to a deep sense of insecurity amongst journalists in the state and a fear that, not just their work, but their own lives, will be in danger if they venture out to do any independent investigation, or stories that are critical of either the security forces or the Maoists. Either way, they face a threat, and these arrests suggest that journalists cannot expect any protection under the law from police and security forces.
In order to protect their right to work and report freely, the local journalists have formed a Patrakaar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti (United Struggle Body for the Security of Journalists). This body has demanded
1. that Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav be immediately released;
2. that the state create conditions for reporters to work and travel freely, and without fear or harassment;
3. that the practice of fake arrests stop and that the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act be repealed or not used against reporters;
4. And finally, an investigation into the methods adopted by senior police official S.R.P.Kalluri, who has created an atmosphere of terror in the Bastar region, especially against the media.