Hundreds of journalists will participate in a ‘jail bharo’ campaign at Jagdalpur on Monday to draw attention to the plight of mediapersons working in south Chhatisgarh in the strife-torn Bastar zone and seek “protection” of press freedom.
A mass demonstration at the Bastar commissioner office has been planned at around noon where they will demand a law to protect journalists, release of two scribes arrested on “fake” charges and a conducive environment to practice journalism in the restive Bastar zone.
“Mediapersons in the seven districts of Bastar region are reporting under the extremely precarious situation. We are increasingly being targeted both by the police and the Maoists. How can we work freely when the police nurture suspicion against us as supporters of Maoists while the rebels suspect we are police informers. We are under pressure from both sides to work as per their dictates,” said Kamal Shukla, general secretary of Patrakar Suraksha Kanoon Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti, umbrella organisation created to safeguard the rights of journalists in the conflict areas.
Over 300 journalists from across the state and some outside Chhattisgarh are expected to participate in the protest march. A memorandum, listing out the demands by the mediapersons, addressed to the President will be handed over to Bastar commissioner. The mediapersons will later court arrest.
Some journalists alleged that there is a directive to hotels to not allot them any room. “Hotels Midnight and Akansha have refused journalists who have come from outside,” said Shukla. However Bastar district police chief RN Das refuted it. “It’s absolutely baseless allegation,” Das told HT. Senior officials in Bastar keeping a watch on the development are refusing to comment.
Earlier in October, the mediapersons from Bastar and other districts of the state held a demonstration in Raipur protesting against the arrests of two reporters, repeal of “draconian” law Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act (CSPSA)and the “high handedness” of Bastar zone inspector general of police.
Amnesty International too had asked the Chhattisgarh government to “stop using abusive laws to harass, intimidate and repress journalists in Bastar”.
In November, around 160 journalists and activists had called for the release of two journalists in Chhattisgarh -- jailed in July and September this year. A petition signed by them was submitted to the chief minister Raman Singh, union home minister Rajnath Singh and the minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram.
Santosh Yadav was arrested by police on September 29 and Somaru Nag on July 16. Yadav was reportedly working for multiple Hindi newspapers, including Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh. Nag was a stringer/news agent with Rajasthan Patrika.
While Nag has been charged under the Indian Penal Code and the Arms Act, Yadav has been booked under the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the CSPSA.