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Indian Freelance Journalist Detained Under Terror Laws

Prashant Rahi

A freelance journalist and activist from the Indian state of Uttarkhand was arrested under the country’s draconian counterterrorism laws on September 1, said Amnesty International. Prashant Rahi was placed in pre-trial detention on a court order under the country’s draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for his alleged support of the Communist Party of India (Maoists), or Naxalites.
According to New Delhi-based Peoples’ Union of Democratic Rights (PUDR), Rahi’s arrest was preceded by that of another activist, Hem Mishra, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Amnesty said that Rahi was an activist seeking legal aid for people arrested on suspicion for alleged support of the Naxalites, which is a banned organisation in India. There are conflicting reports as to whether he was on his way to meet a Naxalite leader, or a lawyer, at the time of his arrest.
The London-based Amnesty International sent out an ‘urgent action’ alert on September 25 appealing for a fair trial for Rahi who is detained in Nagpur Central Jail in Maharashtra state because “parts of the UAPA, under which he has been arrested, do not meet international human rights standards and could lead to violations of his right to a fair trial. The UAPA allows detention without charge for up to 180 days, which is far beyond international standards. It also contains no provisions for adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other ill-treatment.”
While Amnesty said that Rahi was not under no imminent threat of torture, an earlier alert (September 13) dispatched while Rahi was in the custody of the Aheri police, it flagged its possibility.
The Naxalites are a radical organisation that advocate and use violence to secure social justice for the poor and marginalised in parts of central and western India. They are known to carry out raids against the police and government agencies as well as wealthy, rapacious landlords seen as exploiting the poor.
The Times of India said in a report on September 28, “In a press release, the Western regional committee spokesperson [of CPI-M] Shriniwas has claimed that the … police have been framing social activists labelling them as Naxal sympathisers for their own vested interests. The rebels have claimed that the cops have been trying to suppress the voices of the intellectual and activists to stop them from bringing fore the oppressive measures of the government forces.”
Commenting on the arrest and detention of Rahi and Mishra PUDR said, “That there is no real allegation of any crime against both Hem Mishra and Prashant Rahi, it is evident from the fact that both have been charged solely on the basis of the UAPA. For, it is this law that makes normal social and political activity into a crime solely on the whims and fancies of the police. Banning of political organisations and converting any association with such organizations and their opinions into a crime is what opens the gates to the law becoming an instrument of injustice.”
This is not the first time Rehi has been arrested for his activism. He was arrested in Uttarakhand in 2007 and allegedly tortured in detention by the police, says Amnesty. He was released on bail in 2011. The allegations of torture were not investigated.
PUDR supports this claim: “Arrested in December 2007, alleged to be a most-senior Maoist leader, Prashant was kept in solitary confinement through most his 3 year 8 month stay in the jail. Once released on bail, Prashant took upon himself to visit those imprisoned as Naxalites all over the country and to help them obtain access to a lawyer. To this end, he was regularly travelling to across the country collecting details of cases and reaching the same to lawyers.”

TV in India’s Darjeeling Blocked For Covering Separatists’ Protests

On July 18, India’s Jammu and Kashmir state government blocked the internet by issuing a verbal order to an internet service provider to suspend services following violence when an elite police unit attacked unarmed protestors (Please see July 24 posting on this blog). Three weeks later, on August 8, similar restrictions are reported in Darjeeling in West Bengal after television stations covered protests by ethnic Gorkhas demanding a separate state (Gorkhaland) to be carved out of West Bengal.
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that police had confiscated transmitters and tapes of local TV stations. They had also entered the offices of two cable TV networks – Darjeeling Combined Cable Network (DCCN) and Darjeeling Milky Way Cable – and demanded to see registration documents and lists of customers. “Such high-handed tactics to address political turbulence are unacceptable and doomed to fail,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “Cutting off access to television news in this manner is evidence that the Indian democracy still has a long way to go.”
The online news site, Wire, said however that the West Bengal government had issued letters to cable networks ordering they stop broadcasting. It said that 70% of Darjeeling is served by the two  networks.  Wire reported Bimal Gurung, leader of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) spearheading the struggle for a separate state had “retaliated by asking his fellow-party members ‘to uproot the mobile towers’. ‘Animals and birds are harmed by radiation and we do not need mobile network,'” the Wire reported Gurung as saying.
“The Darjeeling blackout is of a piece with the political establishment’s distrust of the media, particularly new media. Hence the attempts to enforce bans or formulate restrictive legislation like Section 66A of the Information Technology Act. However, such restrictions have the opposite effect, fuelling further disenchantment…,” said an opinion piece in the Times of India online edition.
Reporters without Borders (RSF) has placed India in 140thposition among 179 countries in its press Freedom Index, “[i]ts lowest since 2002 because of increasing impunity for violence against journalists and because Internet censorship continues to grow.”