Bastar journalist Santosh Yadav is the only one from India to be behind bars due to his work, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Chhattisgarh-based freelance journalist Santosh Yadav, who was arrested in September 2015 by the state police under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act for “associating with a terrorist organisation” and “supporting and aiding terrorist groups” has been cited as the only Indian journalist to be imprisoned in connection with his work, according to the latest report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The report also stated that 81 journalists are under arrest in Turkey, the most of all the countries included in the report. The other nations where a large number of journalists remain behind bars are China, Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The committee added that a total of 259 journalists were imprisoned around the world as of December 1, 2016, making it the highest incidence of jailed journalists since the organisation began keeping detailed records in 1990. In its annual prison census, the committee “includes only those journalists who it has confirmed have been imprisoned in relation to their work”.
This is an important comment on the Chhattisgarh government’s handling of Yadav, who frequently reported on human rights violations from Bastar. He worked as a freelance journalist for several dailies, including Dainik Navbharat, Patrika and Dainik Chhattisgarh.
The CPJ’s version of Yadav’s arrest runs diametrically opposite to the Chhattisgarh police’s stand on his incarceration. The CPJ’s note regarding Yadav’s arrest mentions how after he was taken into custody, Ajay Yadav, the superintendent of the Bastar district police, told journalists he did not even consider Yadav a journalist.
Last year, The Wire also reported on Yadav being booked for allegedly being linked to Naxals. He was charged with taking part in an encounter involving security forces for which 18 villagers had already been imprisoned.
Considered a fearless journalist, Yadav was booked under the Chhattisgarh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam or Public Safety Act (PSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The district police had claimed he had supported the Maoists in an encounter with police that took place in Darbha on August 21, 2015. At the time, the superintendent of police had also declared that the police suspected Yadav of having links with Shankar, a Maoist leader in the area.
The special report, by Elana Beiser, editorial director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, also said, “CPJ believes that journalists should not be imprisoned for doing their jobs”.
Some of the other key findings of the report include “nearly three quarters of those imprisoned globally face anti-state charges. Since 2001, governments have exploited national security laws to silence critical journalists covering sensitive issues such as insurgencies, political opposition, and ethnic minorities.” Incidentally, Yadav’s arrest is also listed under this category.
The report also noted that “the vast majority of journalists in jail worked online and/or in print; about 14 percent worked in broadcast” and that “20 of the 259 journalists held worldwide are female.”
As for Yadav, the CPJ’s website has put out all the details of his case. It stated that he was arrested on what his colleagues said were “fabricated charges brought in connection with his reporting on alleged human rights abuses by local authorities”.
The statement also says that Yadav’s colleagues and his lawyer say the journalist is innocent and that he was “forced to sign a blank paper that the police have described in court and to the lawyer as a confession”.
According to the report, on September 29, 2015, Yadav had accompanied the families of five men, who had been arrested, from Bhadrimahu village to the police station and that is when he was detained.