Journalist arrested in eastern India after illegal search

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the serious procedural violations accompanying freelance reporter Rupesh Kumar Singh’s arrest in eastern India’s Jharkhand state last weekend and calls for the immediately withdrawal of the charges brought against this journalist, who has been harassed and spied on by the authorities for years.

Ten police officers swooped on Rupesh Kumar Singh’s home in the town of Ramgarh at 5 a.m. on 17 July, carried out a nine-hour search and then arrested him on the spurious grounds of alleged links to Maoist rebel leaders who were arrested last year.

“Singh’s shocking arrest and the accompanying sham proceedings indicate another example of police misuse of judicial tools to gag independent journalists,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on Jharkhand high court chief justice Ravi Ranjan to take note of the many Code of Criminal Procedure violations and to do what is necessary to dismiss the case against this journalist.”

The search of Singh’s home saw many irregularities, starting with the fact that Singh and his wife were made to wait outside for 30 minutes while police went inside on their own, which gave them plenty of time to plant evidence. It was only after several hours that the officer in charge of the operation deigned to produce a warrant for Singh’s arrest. And, even more disconcertingly, one police officer left with a colourful bedsheet on the grounds that he “liked it.”

Life imprisonment 

Singh has been charged under a range of provisions in India’s penal code, in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act – charges that could result in his spending the rest of his life in prison.

Writing for various online media outlets including Janchowk and Media Vigil, he has been covering economic and social problems affecting eastern India’s population for the past decade. His last story, on 15 July, was about industrial pollution’s disastrous impact on the health of the inhabitants of the nearby city of Giridih.

Singh has taken a particular interest in the Adivasi – India’s indigenous communities – and has often denounced the shocking inequalities they suffer by comparison with the rest of the population. As a result, the authorities have tended to associate him with the region’s “Maoist” rebels, also known as “Naxalites.”

Spied on

After several of his articles caused particular annoyance to the authorities in Jharkhand, Singh was stopped by police while driving though the neighbouring state of Bihar in June 2019 and was detained on the grounds of the explosives which the police said they found in his car and which the police themselves planted, according to Singh. Prosecutors finally released him after six months because no formal charges had been brought against him within the required deadline.

In another example of the harassment to which he has been subjected, it was revealed exactly one year ago that Singh was one of the 40 Indian journalists who had been singled out by the Indian government for monitoring with the Pegasus spyware.

Used by governments to target more than 200 journalists worldwide, Pegasus was denounced as a “vile and loathsome tool” by RSF, which filed a criminal complaint in Paris against NSO Group, the company that sells it, and asked the UN to investigate its use.

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