Two journalists have been arrested within four days in conflict-ridden Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Deepak Jaiswal, a journalist at a small time Hindi newspaper Dainik Dainadini, was arrested from the district court at Dantewada on Saturday.
Jaiswal had reportedly gone to the court to attend the proceedings of another journalist, Prabhat Singh, who was arrested on March 22.
Singh was arrested for his posts on a WhatsApp group that were seen as mocking a senior police officer. Three other cases have been lodged against him.
Both journalists had published a story in March last year, detailing how teachers at a Dantewada school were helping students cheat in the exams. The teachers and the principal had filed complaints against the journalists, claiming they had demanded money from the school authorities to bury the story.
Both journalists have been booked for “entering the examination hall, trespassing, obstructing public servant in discharge of public function”.
A local lawyer filed for Jaiswal’s bail, which was rejected.
Asked to comment on Jaiswal’s arrest, Dantewada's superintendent of police Kamlochan Kashyap said he didn't consider Jaiswal to be a journalist as he didn't have a press card from the public relations department of the government. “Why do you make a big deal of one arrest? We arrest several people everyday,” said Kashyap.
However, journalists in Bastar vouch for Jaiswal’s credentials as a journalist. “Of course, he was a journalist. He was prolific and his writing probably made the authorities uncomfortable,” said Bappi Rai, President, South Bastar Reporters Association.
One journalist who works in Bastar claimed that Jaiswal was arrested because of his close connections with Prabhat Singh. “Both journalists were reporting on issues the police wanted to hide,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Both Jaiswal and Singh were in the forefront of a protest march in December 2015 that sought the release of two other journalists who have been behind bars. Santosh Yadav and Somaru Nag, who were reporting out of the Darbha region of Bastar, were arrested in mid-2015.
“There are very few journalists left in Bastar who report objectively. And, obviously they fear for their safety,” said Rai. “As an association, we have decided to boycott any stories related to the police or the Maoists. If we can’t report objectively, we would rather not report. We will request our colleagues in the seven districts of Bastar region to join in this boycott,” he added.
One of the demands of the journalists during the December 2015 protest rally was to allow independent reporting in the region. They have been demanding a law that will ensure their safety and independence while reporting from Bastar.
“We will have to consider our next move,” said journalist Kamal Shukla, who led the journalists’ movement last year. “We had sought a law that would protect journalists, instead we are being blatantly targeted. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel.”