Chhattisgarh journalist Prabhat Singh was arrested for posting objectionable content on social media, amid growing incidents of intimidation of people critical of the state.
Worried journalists frantically searched for Singh after he went missing on Monday. However, the arrest was confirmed after Singh was produced in the Jagdalpur district court on Tuesday.
“He is the only journalist who has reported on their [Bastar police] fraudulent arrests and encounters in the past year or two. Many journalists have been made to toe the line, but few like Prabhat hadn’t agreed,” said Kamal Shukla, Kanker-based editor of Bhumkaal Samaachar.
Singh works as a stringer for the Patrika, a newspaper from the Rajasthan Patrika group, and also owns a small shop for Aadhaar registration near the Danteshwari temple.
He started working for ETV around two months ago, but on March 19 his “arrangement for news contribution” was terminated without reason. On a WhatsApp group, Singh had claimed that this was done under police coercion.
His arrest comes amid growing reports of journalists, activists and lawyers being attacked and threatened in the area. In the past few months, lawyers belonging to the JagLag group were forced out of their rented houses in Jagdalpur. A few months ago, a contributor to news website Scroll, Malini Subramanium, was allegedly attacked by locals.
Shukla said a few journalists, including Singh and him, received death threats from the Samajik Ekta Manch, a vigilante organisation considered a front for the Bastar police. The same organisation has also been protesting against the activists and lawyers in Bastar.
Just a few days ago, Singh had filed a complaint against the Manch over these threats.
In December last year, HT reported on the issues that affect journalists in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh, and who face a constant threat from both the police and the Maoists. At the time, Singh told HT that he was singled out by Bastar inspector general of police SRP Kalluri at a press conference.
“He was warned by the police to tone down his reporting or face consequences,” said Shukla.
Two journalists — Somaru Nag and Santosh Yadav — have been in jail for alleged Maoist links since last year. In this regard, a group of Chhattisgarh journalists launched a campaign demanding a law for their protection. Singh too was a part of this campaign and represented the group at a meeting with the chief minister.
According to Isha Khandelwal, a lawyer with the JagLag group, Singh was arrested under the IT Act’s sections 67 and 67A, and booked for a non-bailable offence. Two more cases, which Singh claims to be false, were registered against him earlier in Geedam and Barsur police stations.
The Jagdalpur-based all-women legal aid group was recently hounded out of Bastar, a penalty they paid for helping villagers and journalists caught in the crossfire between the police and the Maoists.
“Everyone who is raising their voice against the police is being targeted. Prabhat has been very vocal about the Bastar IG. He has been writing a lot of pieces exposing police action,” she said. “Prabhat, who has received worse threats on social media by people from Samajik Ekta Manch, has been sent to jail. His FIR was never filed by the police.”