The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to Chhattisgarh journalist Santosh Yadav, who has spent at least one-and-a-half years in jail on various charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said. Yadav, a freelance reporter from the state’s Bastar district, was arrested on September 29, 2015, on charges of rioting, criminal conspiracy and “associating with a terrorist organisation”.
Yadav has written several stories on protests against security forces by villagers as well as other issues in Bastar, which is in the throes of Maoist conflict. He has also been a point of contact and verification for other reporters writing on the area. He would also introduce the family members of those arrested by state police forces to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group, a lawyers’ collective that offered free legal services to victims of police excesses.
The reporter was arrested after Chhattisgarh Police Special Task Force Commander Mahant Singh said that he saw him standing behind a Maoist fighter during an ambush by them on August 21, 2015. However, Singh later “expressed inability to identify the accused with certainty”, according to an identification parade memo dated January 1, 2016.
The Chhattisgarh Police had filed a chargesheet against Yadav on February 17, 2016. He was also charged under various sections of the Arms Act, 1959, and the Explosive Substances Act, 1908. The police had also charged him under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, and the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005 – both of which are anti-terrorism legislations.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties General Secretary Sudha Bharadwaj said the UAPA and the CSPSA are “widely held as draconian as the ‘unlawful activity’ laid down in these Acts are vague and so broad as to be highly amenable to gross abuse and arbitrary and unreasonable action by the state police and administration”. Speaking to Scroll.in, Yadav’s wife Poonam Yadav said there was no reason for him to languish in jail. “I know my husband is innocent and he will be proved so even if the case takes long,” she said.