Friday, December 8, 2023

Four Indians among 274 journalists jailed worldwide: CPJ 2020 Prison Census

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Malayalam freelance journalist Siddique Kappan is being held in pretrial detention on a variety of anti-state, incitement, and terrorism allegations.

Atleast 274 journalists were imprisoned globally for their work in 2020 as authoritarian nations arrested many covering COVID-19 or political instability, an annual global survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists revealed.

China, which arrested several journalists for their coverage of the pandemic, was the world’s worst jailer for the second year in a row.

It was followed by Turkey, which continues to try journalists free on parole and arrest new ones; Egypt, which went to great lengths to keep custody of journalists not convicted of any crime; and Saudi Arabia, says CPJ report.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York City, New York with correspondents around the world. CPJ promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists.

Four Indian journalists mentioned in the report are Aasif Sultan (Kashmir Narrator), Siddique Kappan (Malayalam freelance journalist) and renowned columnists and writers Gautam Navlakha and Anand Teltumbde.

Here the brief profile:

Aasif Sultan

Jammu and Kashmir police took Aasif Sultan into custody on August 27, 2018, and formally arrested him a few days later. In February 2019, police filed a charge sheet accusing him of harboring militants. He is detained at the Srinagar Central Jail as his case proceeds through the courts.

Sultan, a journalist with the monthly magazine Kashmir Narrator, is being tried for “complicity” in “harboring known terrorists” under the draconian UAPA.

Sultan has been repeatedly denied bail, even though Jammu and Kashmir amended its plea to drop the most serious charges, such as a conspiracy against the state and planning a terror attack.

According to a statement filed on October 3, 2018 before a judge in Srinagar, the state accused Sultan of being in touch with a militant group and promoting it on social media. Sultan and his family disputed this claim and said that Sultan was being targeted for his work as a journalist.

In July 2018, Sultan wrote a cover story for the Kashmir Narrator about the slain Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani, whose killing by Indian security forces set off a wave of anti-government demonstrations in Kashmir in July 2016. Sultan’s story included interviews with non-combatant members of Wani’s militant group, Hizbul Mujahideen, and according to his brother Motta Sultan police pressured Aasif Sultan to disclose his sources for the story.

Siddique Kappan

Malayalam freelance journalist Siddique Kappan is being held in pretrial detention on a variety of anti-state, incitement, and terrorism allegations. Uttar Pradesh police arrested Kappan on October 5, 2020, and held him incommunicado for 48 hours before formally opening an investigation.

Kappan, a freelance reporter who has covered politics, crime, and current affairs for Malayalam-language news outlets including Azhimukham, Thejus Daily and Thalsamayam Midday Daily, is also the secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists.

On October 5, at a toll plaza at the entrance to the city of Mathura in UP, police arrested Kappan and three Muslim youths with whom he was traveling. Kappan was on his way from New Delhi to Hathras to cover the gang-rape and murder of a Dalit woman that had sparked nationwide protests against.

Kappan and other three were charged under draconian UAPA and sedition by UP police.

The next day, the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) filed a habeas corpus petition to the Supreme Court after Kappan’s family and colleagues were not informed of his whereabouts. Supreme Court rejected a bail application by KUWJ, and told them to submit it to a lower court.

In early November, KUWJ filed a new petition with the Supreme Court requesting its intervention. UP government claimed in an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court that Kappan was a member of the Popular Front of India, a Muslim organization and alleged that the police found “incriminating material” in Kappan’s possession including protest leaflets, but did not provide any evidence to prove wrongdoing.

Kappan was beaten thrice and subjected to mental torture during custody, alleged KUWJ in its rejoinder affidavit before the Supreme Court.

Affidavit said Kappan’s lawyer Wills Mathew visited Mathura Jail on 21 November for 30 minutes and had a conference with Kappan and “was shocked to hear that Mr. Kappan was beaten with lathi three times on his thigh, slapped three times after taking out spectacles, dragged, forced to stay awake from 6pm to 6am depriving him of the sleep, without proper medicines, along with serious mental torture from 5.10.2020 to 6.10.2020.”

Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha

Columnists and commentators Anand Teltumbde and Gautam Navlakha surrendered to the National Investigation Agency on April 14, 2020, on the instructions of the Supreme Court. They have been charged with illegally associating with a Maoist group.

Teltumbde is a columnist and writer who covers caste-based discrimination in India and has written critically of Prime Minister Modi in the Indian Express, Economic and Political Weekly, Tehelka and Outlook. He has also authored 30 non-fiction books.

Navlakha is a columnist at the Newsclick news website, and was formerly an editorial consultant with Economic and Political Weekly, a peer-reviewed academic journal covering the social sciences. He has written frequently on the disputed region of Kashmir and on Maoist separatists.

Authorities accused Teltumbde, Navlakha, and more than 15 others of being responsible for a violence that erupted in the Pune in Maharashtra on December 31, 2017, and having links to the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist).

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