New York – The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on Indian authorities to release journalist Deepak Jaiswal, and to cease harassing and jailing journalists for their work. Police arrested Jaiswal, a reporter for the Hindi-language daily Dainadini, in the Bastar region of the central Indian state Chhattisgarhon Saturday. He is at least the second journalist police arrested in the state in a week.
Police in the Dantewada district of Bastar, Chhattisgarh, arrested Jaiswal in connection with a complaint a school principal registered seven months ago, according to the independent news website Scroll.in. Jaiswal is being held on suspicion of trespassing, obstructing public servants from discharging their duties, and assaulting a public servant, after he and Prabhat Singh-a newspaper journalist arrested last week in the state-alleged that teachers helped students at a local school cheat on their examinations, Scroll reported. Officials have not yet formally charged Jaiswal. Singh also faces other charges.
“How many more journalists must be arrested, how many more journalists must be hounded by local authorities before Chhattisgarh’s top leaders recognize there is a problem?” CPJ Asia Program senior research associate Sumit Galhotra asked. “We call on state authorities to immediately release Deepak Jaiswal and all other journalists they have imprisoned for their work.”
A court rejected Jaiswal’s bail request on Saturday, Chhattisgarh-based lawyer Isha Khandelwal told CPJ. Khandelwal told CPJ that Jaiswal has denied any wrongdoing.
Jaiswal is the fourth journalist to be arrested in the state in the last nine months, according to CPJ research. Journalists and lawyers told CPJ during a visit to Chhattisgarh this month that there is a sustained campaign to silence critical reporting in parts of the state. The region has been the site of a decades-long conflict between security forces and Maoist groups.
Police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email request for a comment about Jaiswal’s case. It was not immediately clear why they had acted on a seven-month-old complaint.
On March 21, Chhattisgarh police arrested Prabhat Singh, a reporter for the Hindi-language daily Patrika, ostensibly to question him about unrelated charges, following his critical coverage and pointed questions at police press conferences. In 2015, Chhattisgarh police arrested Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav on unsubstantiated allegations that they were aligned with Maoists. All three remain in custody.
Last month BBC Hindi Service reporter Alok Prakash Putul and freelancer Malini Subramaniam fled Bastar out of fear for their safety, CPJ documented at the time. Subramaniam told CPJ she had for weeks faced intimidation by police and the pro-police activist group Samajik Ekta Manch in connection with her reporting.
Separately, Chhattisgarh-based independent researcher and writer Bela Bhatia, whose research journalists have frequently used in their reporting, said she is also facing intimidation by police officers and their supporters, including the Samajik Ekta Manch, according to news accounts. Bhatia has recently written about human-rights violations in Indian media outlets. In February, she wrote a detailed piece in Outlook magazine exposing alleged rapes and assaults by police and security forces on indigenous people in Bastar-allegations that they have denied. On Saturday, a crowd of almost a hundred people marched through the village of Parpa, where she resides, shouting slogans against her, circulating pamphlets labeling her a Maoist and foreign stooge, and demanding the she leave Bastar, the independent news website The Wire reported.
In January, CPJ and other free-expression and human-rights groups sent a letter to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, asking him to ensure a safer working environment for journalists in the state. The minister has not responded.
(CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.)