Jailed Jharkhand Journalist Rupesh Kumar Slapped With Two New Cases

The journalist's lawyer and wife say the new cases expose the state's intention to keep him in jail for a long time as an undertrial.

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New Delhi: Two new cases have been slapped against Jharkhand-based independent journalist Rupesh Kumar, who has been in jail since July 17 after he was arrested in connection with another case filed under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA] as well as various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Of the two fresh cases, one is based on a first information report (FIR) filed against ‘unknown persons’ on June 30 in Jharkhand’s Bokaro district at Jageshwar Police Station. The other case pertains to an FIR filed on April 26 in Rohtas, Bihar, and is being handled by National Investigation Agency (NIA). 

According to Rupesh’s lawyer, they got to know of the two new cases only when Rupesh had been asked to be present in Bokaro on August 11 in connection with the case filed at Jageshwar police station. 

In the FIR pertaining to the Bokaro case, Rupesh is not among the seven accused named in the FIR for allegedly carrying out Maoist operations against the state. However, he had been asked to appear before the police as FIR also includes “unknown persons”. 

The charges levelled in the FIR include Sections 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with a deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence commit­ted in the prosecution of common object), 307 (attempt to murder) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) of the IPC. 

Also read: Jharkhand Police Arrests Independent Journalist Under Same FIR as Top Maoist Leader

The other charges include Section 4 (punishment for attempt to cause explosion, or for making or keeping explosive with intent to endanger life or property) and Section 5 (punishment for making or possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances) of the Explosive Substances Act; Section 27 (punishment for using arms) of the Arms Act; Section 10 (penalty for being member of an unlawful association) and 13 (punishment for unlawful activities) of UAPA; and Section 17 (deals with unlawful activities) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.  

The other new case, where NIA is carrying out the probe, was filed on April 26 by the Rohtas Police of Bihar. The FIR stated that the police had received credible information on April 12 that the top leadership of the outlawed Maoist party and its cadres were camping locally to collect levy and recruit cadres. It further added that local police had seized Naxal literature meant for recruitment of cadres and promoting the activities of the CPI (Maoist) party in the state of Bihar and Jharkhand.

The charges mentioned in FIR include Section 121A (waging war against the Government of India), 122A (collecting arms to wage war), Section 124 (sedition), Section 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) and Section 24 (dishonesty) of the IPC. The FIR also included various sections of the UAPA.  

Rupesh along with members of the CPI (Maoist), including its committee member Vijay Kumar Arya, has also been named in the case. The case has been taken over by the NIA from the agencies in the Rohtas district of Bihar. The FIR is based on local intelligence from Bihar and Jharkhand. 

Rupesh’s wife, Ipsa Shatakshi, recalled that he had shared an email thread with fellow journalists on May 5, before his arrest on July 17, in which he had mentioned that he was not present in Bihar when the said incident took place in Rohtas in April. Instead, he had said in the email thread that he was in Nagpur during April 12-13 to cover an event of the Vira Sathidar Smriti Samanvay Samiti based upon invitation. A Facebook live telecast of the event in question was shared by Rupesh on his Facebook page and an article based on the event also appeared in Jagran the next day. 

However, his wife recalled that Rupesh had feared, in his email thread, that he would be arrested by the NIA on directions of the Narendra Modi government.

‘Conviction without trial’: Rupesh’s lawyer

Speaking to The Wire, Rupesh’s lawyer Shyam said, “At present, there are four cases against Rupesh. He secured bail in the 2019 case from the Gaya Police, as the police could not file a charge sheet. He is under trial in three cases. What we understand from this pattern of a case after case against Rupesh is clear: It is a pattern of conviction without trial, as evident from those arrested in the Delhi riots conspiracy case and the recent arrest of journalist Mohammad Zubair

Also read: ‘Not Surprised But Offended at Invasion of Privacy’: Jharkhand Journalist on Pegasus List

“The pattern is essentially wherein your trial will not be completed. Instead, the period that one spends post-conviction is what the accused ends up spending during the trial. This is the pattern you can witness across states in India right now. This ensures that a person spends the maximum amount of time under trial. Moreover, there is a ground in court to keep prolonging proceedings given the nature of cases and their severity.” 

He added, “There is another pattern that we see wherein ‘unknown persons’ are named in the cases so whenever something happens people can be framed as those ‘unknown persons’. This is a pattern across cases and is now emerging as routine.”

Rupesh’s arrest by Jharkhand Police on July 17 came against the backdrop of an FIR in which Prashanth Bose (alias Kishan Da), one of the top leaders of the CPI (Maoists), was also named. 

Prior to his arrest on July 17, he was by the Gaya Police in June 2019 for his alleged connections with Maoists. However, the Gaya Police failed to file a charge sheet in the case, and he secured bail in December 2019 in the case. 

Speaking to The Wire, Shatakshi said, “The attempt is to ensure that Rupesh rots in jail for a long time. These cases were filed against Rupesh within a span of 14 days. The idea here is clear…to pave the way for crony capitalists to function without any questions being asked or them being critiqued. That is what Rupesh represented to them.”

Earlier Rupesh was kept in isolation in jail and was not given proper food in accordance with the jail manual. He had demanded that he be shifted out of his cell in the prison which was in shambles and that he be given writing material and proper food. He had accused the jail authorities of denying them to him. It was only after he had stated that he would go on a hunger strike if his demands were not met by August 15 that his concerns had been addressed.