Prabhat Singh, a journalist based in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada, was arrested on Monday at Jagdalpur for allegedly sending an "obscene message" about a senior Bastar police officer on the WhatsApp group called Bastar News, reports The Indian Express. He was booked under Section 67 and Section 67 (A) of the IT Act (publishing and transmitting obscene content in electronic form) as well as Section 292 ofthe IPC (publication of obscene or scurrilous matter). He has been remanded to judicial custody till 31 March.
According to The Indian Express, Singh sent this message on WhatsApp: “Patrakaar suraksha kanoon se keval unhen parhez hai jo already mama ki ***** mein baithe hai “(Only those who are already sitting in mama’s ***** have a problem with the journalists’ protection law). A top Bastar cop is commonly referred to as 'mama' in local parlance.
Singh began working for ETV a couple of months ago but his employment was terminated on 19 March, reported Hindustan Times. Singh claimed on WhatsApp that this was the result of police coercion and this claim led to his arrest.
Meanwhile, Singh's brother Vishnu has claimed that his sibling faced the police wrath for reporting on alleged fake encounter in Pakhnar area (of Bastar), in which an innocent tribal was recently killed by Bastar police.
Besides, on 1 March, Prabhat had also filed a complaint against Santosh Tiwari, Mahesh Rao (local journalists) and members of Samajik Ekta Manch, a social organisation which conducts anti-Naxal mass events along with police, and accused them of defaming him on a WhatsApp group named 'Bastar News' using abusive language, Vishnu said.
He alleged that despite the complaint, no action was taken against them by Dantewada police and now his brother was being dragged in false cases. The opposition Congress in the state has also opposed the arrest of Singh, alleging that police are continuously trying to silence journalists in Bastar.
"The fourth pillar of democracy is not safe in Bastar. Journalists are being continuously targeted. Bastar is burning and people are suffering from tyranny of administration and security forces. Democracy is being murdered there," party's state general secretary Shailesh Nitin Trivedi told PTI.
In view of the scribe's arrest, the main opposition Congress accused the state government of suppressing the voice of journalists.
Singh’s arrest comes at a time when journalists, lawyers and activists, who are trying to bring to light fraudulent arrests by cops in Bastar, are increasingly facing death threats. The Hindustan Times quoted Kamal Shukla, editor of Bhumkaal Samaachar as saying that Singh is one of the few journalists who was not intimidated and continued to report on the fake arrests in Bastar. One of the organisations allegedly threatening him was Samajik Ekta Manch and Singh had even filed a complaint against it a few days ago.
Recently, Malini Subramanium, a journalist with Scroll.in had to leave her home in Jagdalpur allegedly due to pressure from the Manch, reported DNA. Two other journalists, Santosh Yadav and Samaru Nag, were arrested in July 2015 and are yet to be released from custody.
With inputs from PTI