Bastar Journalist Claims Threat to Life in Jagdalpur Jail

Santosh Yadav has said that an inmate was planning an attack on him and has expressed apprehensions of being killed inside the jail.

Santosh Yadav. Credit: Amnesty International

Santosh Yadav. Credit: Amnesty International

Bastar-based journalist Santosh Yadav, who was arrested by the Chhattisgarh police in September and charged with taking part in an encounter with the security forces has now claimed a threat to his life in Jagdalpur jail, where he is presently lodged. Eighteen villager are already imprisoned on the same charges.

According to a report in The Hindu, Santosh conveyed a message through his father, who met him in the jail on Tuesday, that an inmate named Vicky was planning an attack on him.

Budhram, Yadav’s father, told the newspaper: “I went to meet Santosh today. He told me that some people were about to attack him last night but did not do so because of the presence of a security guard outside the barrack. 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. He asked me to convey this massage to Kamal Shukla [the senior journalist who launched a campaign for the release of Mr. Yadav and other journalists from jail].”

While the police claim Santosh is a Maoist sympathiser, journalists describe him as a fearless writer who never shied away from reporting on human rights violations. They claim that he was one of the four journalists who have been allegedly framed in various cases since last year. While two of them are now out on bail, another one was acquitted by a court.

Following Santosh’s arrest last year, The Wire reported on how journalists and civil rights groups across India had criticised the police actions against him and another journalist, Somaru Nag.

Santosh, who has written for various Hindi newspapers including Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh, was booked under the Chhattisgarh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam, or Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA.

Following his arrest, the district police claimed he had supported the Maoists in an encounter that took place in Darbha on August 21. Bastar district superintendent of police Ajay Yadav even went on record to state that he did not consider Santosh to be a journalist. He said the police suspected he had links to local Maoist leader Shankar.

However, Amnesty International India claimed that Santosh was booked under special laws, PSA and UAPA, which made securing of bail difficult.

“Draconian laws are being used to silence journalists reporting from areas of conflict between security forces and Maoist armed groups in Chhattisgarh. Reporting the different sides of a story is a legitimate exercise of a journalist’s right to freedom of expression. The recent arrests in Chhattisgarh are a disturbing sign of the state government’s disdain for media freedom. These attempts at intimidating the media must end.” said Abhirr VP, a campaigner at Amnesty International India.

Santosh had earlier been booked in three cases in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh. Amnesty had claimed that in June 2015 he had even been stripped and beaten up by the state police.

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties had claimed Santosh was under the pressure of police to work as an informer. It said since Santosh was one of the first reporters to reach the spot of an attack on a Congress convoy in the Darbha valley in May 2013, the police had assumed he collaborated with the Maoists.

Incidentally, the tussle between the journalists and the police in the state has also been reported extensively by the international media. Earlier this year, the BBC did an elaborate report on how journalists are being threatened in Chhattisgarh and many of them have been forced to flee.

Prior to that, in March of this year, The Wire also reported on how Bastar was turning into a media black hole. Referring to the arrest of a journalist, Prabhat Singh, by the Chhattisgarh police during the same month, the report had dwelt on the issue of media freedom in the Bastar region, “where a civil war between Maoist insurgents and the security forces has claimed the lives of hundreds of people and led to allegations of widespread human rights abuse”.